Keith Fowler (Keith Franklin Fowler; born February 23, 1939 in San Francisco) is an American actor, director, producer, and educator. He is a Professor of Drama and Head of Directing Emeritus in the Drama Department of the Claire Trevor School of the Arts of the University of California, Irvine (UCI), and he is the former Artistic Director of two LORT/Equity theaters.
Fowler began acting professionally with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (1958 & 1960), playing Antony in Julius Caesar and Lorenzo in Merchant (with OSF founder Angus Bowmer as Shylock), before leaving to study at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon, U. K. In England, he directed a local troupe in the Midlands premiere of Brecht's Mother Courage. The production at the Stratford Hippodrome in spring 1961 led the town's veteran drama critic to compliment the non-professionals for daring a type of theater that Sir Peter Hall hesitated to bring to the just-founded Royal Shakespeare Company.
Fowler attended the Yale School of Drama, studying under Nikos Psacharopoulos, executive director of the Williamstown Theater Festival, who chose Fowler to serve as resident director of a theater in Holyoke, Massachusetts, where Fowler staged productions of J. B., by Archibald MacLeish, and Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. In 1964, Fowler joined the faculty of Williams College. He directed a Macbeth for the El Paso Festival Theater in 1965 and served as assistant director of the Williamstown Theater Festival in 1966. In 1968, he acted and directed for the Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota, Florida.
Virginia Museum Theater
Virginia Years. In 1969, he was appointed artistic director of the Virginia Museum Theater (VMT, now the Leslie Cheek Theater) in Richmond and guided it to become the city's first resident Actors Equity company and a home for classics and new plays.
1969; scenery by Sandro LaFerla
His productions, beginning with Marat/Sade (the first racially integrated company on the Virginia Museum's stage), brought controversy into the heart of Richmond's art district but also drew increased attendance, more than doubling audiences from a subscription base of 4,300 in 1969 to more than 10,000 in the late 1970s.
Dubbing the professional company VMT Rep, he drew national attention when in 1973 his second staging of Macbeth, starring E.G. Marshall, led Clive Barnes of The New York Times to call it the "'Fowler Macbeth'... "splendidly vigorous... probably the goriest Shakespearean production I have seen since Peter Brook's 'Titus Andronicus'." International attention arrived in 1975 when Soviet Cultural Consul Viktor Sakovich provided coverage on Moscow Television for Fowler's English-language premiere of Maxim Gorky's Our Father (originally Poslednje).
Fowler in 1970, in his first year as director of
Fowler subsequently staged the Gorky production at the Manhattan Theater Club, New York. In 1977, refusing museum pressure to censor his premiere of Romulus Linney's play Childe Byron, Fowler resigned to serve his Yale alma mater as chief of directing for a year.
American Revels Company
He returned to Richmond in 1978 with his associate director Betty Osborn to lease the Empire Theater, fronting historically black residential Jackson Ward onto the majority business section, where together they founded the American Revels Company.
1978. Fowler sells the first ARC subscription to Richmond Mayor Henry L. Marsh
ARC attracted progressive support for appealing directly to both black and white communities in Richmond. Without intending to enter into Richmond's post-Segregation politics, Fowler nevertheless found ARC becoming a rallying point in the late '70s for re-balancing the two symbiotic communities through art. Funding through the box office and City Council support was affected directly by public favor in a city with a growing black majority.
Keith Fowler, outside the Empire Theater, greeting neighbors at free performance of play, "I Have a Dream," 1979
The first season started with strong audiences, including full houses for A Christmas Carol and The Club in the thousand-seat Empire, but attendance dwindled halfway through when play titles leaned toward those least likely to afford tickets—the African American community. ARC countered this by offering free performances to neighboring residents. Richmond's racially split City Council issued a challenge grant to ARC, and a patron helped the company raise matching funds in the summer of 1979 by sponsoring a performance by entertainer Ray Charles to benefit ARC. In the second season, ARC dealt with historic racial issues head-on by presenting an inter-racial satire entitled The Black and White Minstrel Show, conceived and written by Fowler and Osborn as a parody of the City Council. The season continued with works aimed at all of Richmond, but even when attendance was at its best, the tasks of balancing a black-white unity repertory for Richmond proved insurmountable, and ARC closed its second season. Virginia Lifestyle journalist Martha Steger sums up Fowler as a "Rebel" but "with a Cause."
After the demise of ARC, Fowler returned to acting at the Pittsburgh Public Theater and joined Yale classmate Robert Cohen, then chair of drama, on the faculty of the University of California, Irvine.
Among the research topics that drew Fowler's focus was the relationship between acting and hypnosis, through which he developed protocols for characterization. In collateral studies he learned that actors are, as a group, significantly more susceptible to trance than the general population. Actors who display versatility playing characters are those who show a high "Femininity" index on the California Psychological Inventory (CPI). Because these results were unpublished, it is worth noting that Fowler only surmised why femininity = versatility. "It may be," he says, "because CPI Femininity is traditional--marking one who is nurturing, empathetic, and used to adapting."
In 1984, he joined Jerzy Grotowski's "Objective Drama" project in the barn and fields south of the UCI campus, working with Grotowski day and night to explore the essential organons and yantrasof performance.
Fowler was the original director of ArtsBridge America, now expanded nationwide, a program created by then dean Jill Beck at UCI in 1996 for granting scholarships to university dance, drama, music, and studio art majors to reintroduce arts education into the depleted curricula of K-12 pupils in local schools.
Fowler served UCI as head of directing for over thirty years until he stepped down in 2011. As HoD, he selected and taught a number of young directors who went on to become producers and artistic directors of their own companies His standards for choosing new students included a concern for diversity— not traditional racial or ethnic diversity, but diversity of training and experience— enrolling foreign students as well as non-traditional older students in the belief that students learn as much from peers as from faculty.
Plan B vs. Plan A
The Tooth of Crime
, UC Irvine 1981:Jeffrey Meek,
One of Fowler's teachings is that directors must be over-prepared to guide a production team in designing and rehearsing a show. Co-author of A Director's Guide, Janelle K. Eagle points to his statement, "The notion of a modest Plan B to 'fall back on' is a mistaken concept," as a highlight of the Guide. Eagle finds the notion applying to a variety of fields, quoting again: "The magnificent exchanges for which one wishes, those that lead to real discovery and leaps into true art, can only occur spontaneously when all are ready, when sparks are struck right there in the moment with colleagues.That is Plan A!" Among Fowler's major productions at UCI have been Sam Shepard's The Tooth of Crime,Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing andArcadia, his own translation of Georg Büchner's Woyzeck, Brecht and Weill's The Threepenny Opera, and Heiner Müller's Hamletmachine.