Biography and History

Born in Newark, New Jersey, on August 23, 1934, Richard Schechner was the third of Sheridan and Selma (Schwarz) Schechner's four sons. Richard spent his early years in the Jewish Weequahic neighborhood of Newark. His family moved to suburban South Orange, N.J., when Schechner was 14 where he went to Columbia High School, graduating in 1952. He attended Cornell University from 1952 to 1956 earning a B.A. with honors in English. At Cornell he gained considerable editorial experience by serving on the staff of the Cornell Daily Sun. In 1956-57, he attended Johns Hopkins University studying in Elliott Coleman's writing seminars and in the more scholarly English department. He completed his M.A. in English at the University of Iowa in 1958 where he was a member of Paul Engle's Iowa Writers' Workshop. At Cornell and Iowa he frequently wrote reviews of theater productions as increasingly his interests turned to theater. His master's thesis was a play, Briseis and the Sergeant, based on an episode in the Iliad. During the summers of 1957 and 1958, Schechner co-founded and co-directed the East End Players in Provincetown, Massachusetts, writing and directing several productions. From November 1958 until August 1960, Schechner served in the United States Army in Fort Polk, Louisiana, and Fort Hood, Texas. While in the army, Schechner wrote troop information pamphlets, taught, edited a post newspaper, and directed two plays.

After his discharge from the Army, Schechner attended Tulane University. In the summer of 1961, he restarted the East End Players for its final summer season. Schechner earned his Ph.D. from Tulane in 1962. His dissertation was a study of Eugene Ionesco based on 8 months of research in Paris in 1961-62. Upon completing his degree, Schechner was hired by Tulane as an assistant professor of drama from 1962-1965 and associate professor from 1965-1967. Under the terms of Schechner's appointment, he was named editor of the Tulane Drama Review ( TDR). Although Schechner was young, brash, and unproven at the time, Monroe Lippman, chair of Tulane's theater department, took a chance on him --a challenging opportunity that Schechner embraced completely. Within five years, under Schechner's editorship, not only did the number of TDR subscribers grow substantially, but the reputation of TDR as a leading vehicle for writing about radical and experimental theater developed as well.

Schechner's work within the theater world continued to expand as well. While in New Orleans, Schechner served as one of three producing directors of the Free Southern Theater and one of three founding directors of the New Orleans Group. His plays were produced by Tulane and in local New Orleans theaters. Schechner's scholarly interests expanded to include performance in all of its aspects, from ritual and play to the performances of everyday life. While living in New Orleans, Schechner was active in both the African American freedom movement and the anti-Vietnam War movement. In 1967, a bitter dispute between the theater department and Tulane's central administration led to the resignations of five faculty members, Schechner among them. Schechner and Lippman were invited to join the faculty at New York University where Robert W. Corrigan, the founding editor of TDR, had in 1966 started the School of the Arts (later the Tisch School of the Arts). Schechner was promoted to full professor when he and TDR, renamed The Drama Review, moved to NYU in September 1967. Shortly after arriving in New York, Schechner continued his theater work by creating The Performance Group (TPG) in 1967. Eight months later, the Performance Group gained national attention by premiering the radical and controversial Dionysus in 69 (textual collage and direction by Schechner). The success of Dionysus launched TPG into a varied repertory of environmental theater productions, including Schechner's deconstruction of Shakespeare, Makbeth (1970), the group-devised Commune (1970-1972), Sam Shepard's Tooth of Crime (1972-1974), Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children (1975-77), David Gaard's The Marilyn Project (1975-76) Seneca's Oedipus (1977), Terry Curtis Fox's Cops (1978), and Jean Genet's The Balcony (1979), all directed by Schechner. These works were performed both at The Performing Garage and internationally in Europe and then India.

In order to focus his energies more on TPG and to give himself more time for writing, Schechner passed the TDR editorship to Erika Munk in 1969, but continued to serve as contributing editor. Munk was replaced by Michael Kirby as TDR's editor in 1969. Schechner resumed editing TDR in 1986 (these matters will be discussed more fully below in the “Brief History of The Drama Review”).

In 1971-72, Schechner and Joan MacIntosh (one of the founding members of TPG and from 1970 Schechner's wife) traveled to India and other destinations across Asia. This trip left a profound mark on Schechner's life, thinking, and work. Since then, he has made many trips to Asia - especially India, China, Japan, and Indonesia - to do research, lecture, lead workshops, and direct plays. In 1977, MacIntosh gave birth to their son, Samuel MacIntosh Schechner. From the late 1960s, and increasingly throughout the 1970s, Schechner wrote a number of influential books: Public Domain (1968), Environmental Theater (1973), Theaters, Spaces and Environments (with Brooks McNamara and Jerry Rojo, 1975), Essays on Performance Theory, 1970-1976 (1976), and Ritual, Play and Performance (co-editor with Mady Schuman, 1976).

In 1980, after artistic differences arose over the direction of TPG, Schechner left his position of artistic director, remaining on the Board of Directors until 1986. Shortly after Schechner resigned, TPG was renamed the Wooster Group. For a considerable period of time, Schechner concentrated on developing his theories of performance, which ultimately coalesced into the field now known as performance studies. Academically and theatrically, Schechner, who became known in the early 1970s for environmental theater, had always been fascinated by the performances of rituals across a wide range of cultures. From the early 1970s, Schechner had been seriously incorporating anthropology into his work. Always a prolific writer, he collaborated with anthropologist Victor Turner planning a World Conference in Theater and Ritual which convened for three meetings in the early 1980s.

From the mid-1970s, Schechner began teaching courses in performance theory and theater anthropology at NYU. In 1980, NYU's Graduate Drama Department its name to the Performance Studies Department suiting the name to the emerging actuality. Many of Schechner's seminal ideas relating theater to the social sciences were collected in his 1985 book, Between Theater and Anthropology. In 1987, Schechner and his then 9 year-old son Samuel co-authored a short novel, The Engleburt Stories: North to the Tropics. In 1988, a revised version of Essays on Performance Theory appeared as Performance Theory; a further revision came out in 2003 . The Future of Ritual, a further collection of essays, was published in 1996 and the first edition of Schechner's textbook, Performance Studies - An Introduction, appeared in 2003 with a second edition coming out in 2006.

Throughout the 1980s, Schechner continued to adapt and direct plays including a Shakespeare collage, Richard's Lear (1981), at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Cherry Ka Baghicha (Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, 1982) with the Repertory Company of the National School of Drama in New Delhi, The Prometheus Project (1983-85) in New York, Moliere's Don Juan (in Schechner's translation, 1987) at Florida State University, and Sun Huizhu's Mingri Jiuyao Chu Shan (Tomorrow He'll Be Out of the Mountains, 1989) at the Shanghai Peoples Art Theater. And in 1986, he again took over the editorship of TDR.

Schechner and MacIntosh divorced in 1978. In 1987, Schechner married Carol Martin, and their daughter, Sophia Martin Schechner, was born in 1988. Throughout the 1990s and into the present, Schechner has been extremely active in the USA and internationally as a theater director, editor, workshop leader, lecturer, and professor. In 1992, he directed the first play by an African American ever done in South Africa, August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and in 1995 in Taipei, his own adaptation of Aeschylus' Oresteia (translated into Chinese). In 1992, he founded the East End Players, which continues to the present. With ECA Schechner has directed his own Faust/gastronome (1993), Chekhov's The Three Sisters (1995-97), Shakespeare's Hamlet (1999), Beckett's Waiting for Godot (2002, in collaboration with Cornell University), and Saviana Stanescu and Schechner's YokastaS (2003) and YokastaS Redux (2005). As of 2005, Schechner and Stanescu are working with novelist Paul Auster on a dramatization of Auster's Timbuktu.

In 1991 Schechner was named University Professor at NYU. In 1992-93 he was an Old Dominion Fellow at Princeton where he helped develop the Richard Schechner/TDR Collection. Schechner has also been a Montgomery Fellow at Dartmouth, and an Andrew H. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell. He is also the winner of a number fellowships and awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship (1975), the Mondello Prize (Italy, 1985), a Lifetime Achievement Award from Performance Studies International (2002), and an American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship (2004). Schechner's books and essays have appeared in many languages including Chinese, Japanese, Dutch, Korean, German, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Hungarian, and Serbo-Croatian.

Brief History of The Drama Review

TDR, The Drama Review, one of the world's leading academic performance journals, had a modest beginning as the Carleton Drama Review in 1955. At that point, TDR actually was mostly about drama. Over the years, the journal has changed focus several times - from dramatic literature, to theater and staging, to the broad field of performance studies. At its outset, founding editor Robert W. Corrigan, with the urging and help of advisory editor Eric Bentley, transformed the Carleton from a first idea of publishing a lecture series into a more full-fledged scholarly journal. When Corrigan moved to Tulane in 1957, he brought the Carleton from Minnesota to New Orleans, renaming it the Tulane Drama Review. The journal began to grow, albeit slowly, challenging the prevailing ideas of Broadway theater with a more avant-garde and European approach.

With the appointment in 1962 of Schechner as TDR's second editor, the growth and influence of TDR began to take flight. For the first year of his editorship, Schechner published a backlog of articles, and therefore his impact was not immediate. But by 1963, TDR began to assert its new voice. Schechner instituted an editorial column, TDR Comment, which he often wrote himself. In one of the first Comments (T20), Schechner set the tone for TDR: “You choose Broadway and I'll choose an experimental theater. There are many roads to truth. But neither of us can choose both Broadway and the experimental theater. That's a contradiction in intention.” This was a daring statement, for at that time the concept of experimental theater was in its infancy. Two issues later, Schechner and associate editor Theodore Hoffman laid out a seven-point mission statement for TDR: “An absolute commitment to professional standards. The decentralization of the professional theater. A deep and continued interest in both practical and theoretical experimentation. A committed employment of the open stage. The reintroduction of the playwright into the theater. A recognition that the best contemporary theater is international. The redirection of education theater into the mainstream of American theater” (T22).

Whether Schechner was successful or not in fulfilling this mission remains an open question. What is not in doubt was the exploding popularity and success of TDR over the rest of the 1960s. Always controversial and intensely disliked by some of the more traditional theater minds, TDR offered a source for experimental ideas, an outlet for nontraditional playwrights, and an opening which embraced all types of performance, not simply drama. In a series of essays and editorial choices, Schechner not only championed experimental and political theater, he broke ground by publishing a special issue on Happenings (T30, 1965), opening TDR's pages to writings about non-Western theater, and beginning the turn toward the social sciences and critical thought that would eventuate in performance studies.

In 1967, because of frustrations with Tulane University, Schechner joined a group of theater faculty in resigning. Schechner and Tulane theater department chair Monroe Lippman accepted teaching positions at New York University where Robert Corrigan was developing a new school of the arts. Schechner took the Tulane Drama Review with him to NYU, renaming it The Drama Review. Once in New York, TDR became increasingly politically engaged. Schechner invited playwright Ed Bullins to edit a black theater issue (T40) which remains a landmark publication. In 1969, T43 had a feature on the Living Theater's tumultuous return to the USA. T43 was Schechner's last issue during his first stint at TDR editor. He wrote that he resigned his editorship in order to devote more time to writing and theater directing.

Schechner's longtime managing and then associate editor Erika Munk assumed the position of TDR editor in the summer of 1969. The first number under Munk's editorship was a special issue on “Politics and Performance” (T44) that she and Schechner had prepared. In fact, TDR had turned increasingly political during the late 1960s. Many articles concerned the political and social changes within and beyond the United States. For example, Schechner and Latin American theater specialist Joanne Pottlitzer traveled throughout Latin America, including Cuba, in 1968. The results of their encounter were published as TDR's Latin American issue (T46), clearly one of the journal's most radical numbers. However, Munk did not remain TDR's editor long. She was fired by NYU not because of controversial political ideas but because of administrative and financial troubles. With Munk's departure, there was doubt concerning whether or not TDR would continue publishing.

In 1971, with the cautious approval of New York University Michael Kirby - a TDR contributing editor and NYU faculty member - was appointed editor. Kirby brought the financial crisis under control by cutting costs, bringing in a professional managing editor to run the office, and signing up with MIT Press who from that time forward became responsible for the physical production of TDR managing its non-editorial budget. MIT Press has turned a profit running TDR's business and production side and, in fact, subsidizes the editorial offices which are at NYU.

In terms of editorial policy, Kirby was concerned that TDR had concentrated too much on the social science and political aspects of performance, and not enough on the history and practice of theater, drama, and dance. Kirby abhorred what he called “value judgments” and wanted TDR to be “objective.” Over the next 17 years, Kirby accomplished his program. He gave up omnibus issues. Every number of TDR was a “special” issue, devoted to one topic or idea. Over time, a very broad range of subjects was featured. The special issue concept began with Schechner but had been used only occasionally before Kirby.

At its height in the late 1960s, TDR's paid circulation approached 20,000. A slow decline began under Kirby's editorship - though it is not correct to blame his policies for the decline. As the activist 60s and early 70s cooled down, and as the cost for subscriptions increased, TDR began to lose significant numbers of individual subscribers. The journal became a mainstay of university libraries - often used in courses and cited by scholars, TDR was no longer a “have to have” magazine for directors, actors, designers, or producers. For all this, TDR is in the forefront of academic theater journals.

After 17 years as editor, Kirby resigned in 1986. Schechner was eager to again become editor, a post he still holds. Joining him in 1986 was associate editor Mariellen Sandford, who still holds that position. During Schechner's second editorial stint, TDR vigorously publishes across the broad range of performance studies. In his TDR Comments, Schechner argues for reforming university theater departments. TDR continues to champion experimentation, interculturality, and the careful study of the broad range of performance from the performing arts to rituals, play, and the performances of everyday life. The current contributing editors come from North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia - making TDR the only truly international and intercultural performance journal. TDR's annual student essay contest draws entries from around the world. A freshly designed TDR is widely available online through such services as Project Muse and Jstore. TDR is also offered in an online only format for those subscribers who prefer paperless publishing. As TDR celebrates its 50th birthday in 2006, its outlook is youthful, its core editorial values unchanged. Led by Schechner and Sandford, TDR continues to challenge the conventional performing arts world, broadening horizons while introducing both established and new writers and artists to eager readers in scores of countries.

Source: From the finding aid for TC071

  • Richard Schechner Papers and The Drama Review Collection. 1960-2007 (bulk), 1943-2007 (inclusive).

    Call Number: TC071

    The material in this collection pertains not only to an individual, Richard Schechner, but also to TDR, The Drama Review, a scholarly journal concerned with the broad range of performance in society and in the arts. Schechner, a renowned scholar, director, writer, and educator, edited The Drama Review from 1962-1969 and again from 1986 to the present date. Particularly in the 1960s, and again in the 1990s, both Schechner and TDR challenged traditional, prevailing ideas about theater-what it is, how it should be presented, and the ritual and ideals behind it. Schechner argued for thinking of "performance" as an all-encompassing genre with "theater" as one of its sub-categories. He is widely recognized as the founder of "performance studies" as an academic discipline. In the process of working out what performance studies is, Schechner and his colleagues at New York University created new ideas and new ways of thinking that still affect today's world of performance, theater, dance, and the social sciences. As "the journal of performance studies," TDR did much to shape the new discipline.