Magazine article American Theatre

Howard Stein: 1922-2012

Magazine article American Theatre

Howard Stein: 1922-2012

Article excerpt

* Howard Stein, first permanent chair of the Oscar Hammerstein II Center for Theatre Studies and head of the playwriting program at Columbia University, died in October. He retired from Columbia in 1991, and is still noted as one of the most important playwriting teachers of the past half-century.

In 1991 I had the unenviable task of replacing Stein as chair of the Hammerstein Center--unenviable because he was, in truth, irreplaceable. Howard was sui generis and a force of nature with a passion for theatre that he exuded in everything he said and did. His energy and fervor was reminiscent of Harold Clurman and that whole generation from what Clunnan termed the "fervent years." I know of few people today who are as unreservedly enthusiastic about the theatre as Stein was, and virtually no one who expresses that enthusiasm with such zeal. His importance, of course, was his position as one of the most important and influential teachers of playwriting of his time, having mentored several generations of writers at Iowa, Yale (where he was also associate dean of the School of Drama) and Columbia--playwrights who have gone on to shape the American theatre.

At Columbia, Howard helped resurrect the Theatre Division from the ashes, as it were. Almost entirely eliminated at the start of the 1970s, theatre was nurtured back to life by Bernard Beckerman, and then through the 1980s Howard Stein built it back into a program with a national reputation. He worked with limited resources and support and was known to joke on occasion that it was called the Hammerstein Center because its purpose was to "hammer Stein." But Howard made up for the institutional shortcomings with a personal commitment to every one of his students--in whom he took enormous pride.

Until a few years ago, when he could no longer travel, Howard would be on campus at least once a semester, often more, participating in a range of activities, and he would always stop by to bring me and others up to date on the work and accomplishments of alumni. …

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