Robert Brustein, the founder of both the Yale Repertory Theatre (YRT) and the American Repertory Theater (ART), died October 29. He was 96 years old. The news was confirmed via Brustein's wife, Doreen Beinart, to The New York Times.
A prolific leader in the American theatre, Mr. Brustein consistently positioned himself at the center of conflicts within the industry, pushing fiercely for fewer boundaries between artists and their audience. For more than 50 years he reviewed productions for The New Republic, and contributed to countless books, newspapers, and magazines in his mission to support "non-pandering" theatre outside of the for-profit model.
Somewhat antithetically, Mr. Brustein was closely associated with the Ivy League universities of Yale and Harvard, where he taught for many years in addition to founding and running the YRT and ART programs. He served as the dean of the prestigious Yale Drama School, and produced well over 200 plays during his time.
Mr. Brustein was a valiant soldier for the regional theatre movement, who worked tirelessly to ensure they were not corrupted by commercial interests. Said Mr. Brustein in a 1990 interview with The New York Times: “The basic aim of the commercial theatre is to make a profit. The basic aim of noncommercial theatre, in its ideal form, is to create the condition whereby works of art can be known. And I don’t think these are compatible aims.”
A willing martyr to his cause, Mr. Brustein frequently ran afoul of established individuals in the commercial theatre industry, including a notable tiff with playwright Samuel Beckett that nearly brought legal action against ART; and an extended conflict with August Wilson, resulting in extensive public debate. After leaving Yale to found ART, he lamented the company's retooling as a pre-commercial testing ground for productions, decrying that “the use of sequential nonprofit institutions as launching pads and tryout franchises for the development of Broadway products and the enrichment of artistic personnel.”
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Mr. Brustein lived the majority of his adult life in Massachusetts. He authored 16 books, countless plays and theatrical adaptations, and an anthology of medical satire. Throughout his career, he was heavily awarded, receiving the Fulbright Fellowship, the Guggenheim Fellowship, multiple George Jean Nathan awards, induction into the American Theatre Hall of Fame, and the National Medal of the Arts.
Mr. Brustein is survived by his second wife, activist Doreen Beinart; his son Daniel; his stepson Peter; his stepdaughter Jean; two grandsons; and five step-grandchildren. He is predeceased by his first wife, actor Norma Ofstrock.