Monday, March 17, 2014

Walt Witcover: In Memoriam

Walt Witcover

Walt Witcover, three time Obie Award winning director, was a star artist in his own right though you probably don't know who he is if you are under 50 and never studied acting in New York. A member of the Actor's Studio Director's Unit when it was established by Lee Strausberg in its hey day, Walt presented a La Traviata that for its time in the 1960s, was unparalleled in its scope, conceptualization and logical perfection. Strausberg was gobsmacked. It was so transformative and uplifting that directors who saw the production, one in particular, took Walt's ideas and implemented them as their own without giving Walt credit. Instead of calling out the director, Walt and Masterworks Laboratory Theatre, his non-profit company, quietly continued to make history for friends, fans, colleagues and others in the business of theater. He has left them memories that they will always treasure.

Walt's first directing stint at Cornell.
Walt was the type to keep hurts within. Also, he was more caught up in the doing than in the marketing and promotional aspect of his work. Today, theater is evolving and Walt's ideas have still not come into the mainstream in live theater. Money is a major factor which often hampers the director's ability to craft and hone a production. However, plays Off Broadway and Off Off Broadway are burgeoning. Here and there one does see hints of what Walt was about. And here and there the exceptional production manifests the ideas of Living On Stage, Walt's book. Opera has yet to wholly embrace the concepts of giving the characters life in staging their actions. With the exceptional director, as Walt was, it is intuitive and natural. When a production comes to life as Walt always attempted with his work, the result is breathtaking and you know something alive and magical is happening. I so look forward to seeing these types of productions. They remind me of Walt and what he always will represent for me; the finest in the dramatic arts and play production.

Walt was a perfectionist who would settle for nothing short of spectacular and mind bending. Looking back at what I've written thus far, he would snap his blue pencil and edit those last two adjectives. Excess was not something he tolerated as a teacher, writer, director and actor. He was Goldilocksian through and through. Whatever he accomplished had to be just right. If it wasn't, he fretted. Such was his creative genius. I was an acting student and friend. I regret I didn't see more of his work in the 1970s and 1980s. I also regret that he never got the opportunity to help stage a friend's play about Kate Chopin (The Awakening of Kate Chopin by Rosary O'Neill). He expressed a great interest in it and I tried to contact another director, but by that point, Walt was physically failing and the project, like so many projects, went into limbo. Too bad. It would have been wonderful to see Walt work for one last time, but it was not to be. Walt, I love you and am so glad I was able to know you. I so appreciate that we were able to enjoy four years of plays at Brooklyn Academy of Music. I will miss your grace, honesty and genius.
Walt's Memoir

                                          Walt Witcover

Iconoclast, perfectionist were you
In life. A visionary actor's friend.
Director, writer, teacher, actor, too,
On your shy, sweet love and strength we did depend.

Your innovations were artistic dreams,
Rich seeds you sowed within our hearts and minds,
That blossomed, grew, bore fruit in vibrant streams
Embodying the lively arts, serene, sublime.

Your legacy we will uphold with grace,
Your life's work chronicled in words and deeds,
Living on Stage, your book, will keep its place
In actor lore, an actor's onstage creed. 

Oh Walt, God made his masterwork in you.
We're thankful that we shared your life, your truth.


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