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Brockett Receives USITT Award

Oscar Brockett, given by Margaret Mitchell

Oscar Brockett was honored with the USITT Award, given at the 2009 Annual Conference & Stage Expo. His remarks were delivered by Margaret Mitchell.

I am extremely pleased to be offered this award by USITT. It is especially meaningful to me because during the convention I will have my 86th birthday, which is also the reason why I am not here in person. My physical well-being does not, at the moment, let me travel and therefore I am sorry to be unable to be present for the honor you are giving me.

But, I have a couple of things I'd like to say briefly. Those of you who know me probably think of me primarily as an author of books about theatre history, but I'd like to proudly say that the first ten years of my work in theatre was in design and technology, and that my first graduate degree was in that field.

My first appointment in a university job came in 1949 at the University of Kentucky, after which I returned to Stanford University to complete a Ph.D. degree and, while working at that university, held the title of Junior Artist in Residence which actually was a job that required me to replace any of the four faculty members in the design-technology area when any one of them was on leave. Since the university was on a quarter system, this meant that I had to replace one of the four each quarter of the year, which in turn, meant that I had to do both their practical theatre work and teach their classes. It was a very interesting experience for me, one that meant that I had to deepen my knowledge and skills rapidly in several different areas of production and to apply it immediately.

That was my greatest immersion in this field. Afterward I went to teach at the University of Iowa, where the chair of the department was Arnold Gillette, one of the nation's best known designers. I was more useful in other areas, especially in that time when academic theatre was perhaps in its greatest time of growth.

When the dean of my college began to ask me to create and teach graduate-level classes in theatre history and similar academic subjects, I became a writer in the 1960s and have continued so ever since. But what I learned from design and technology has remained with me still.

Last year, at the USITT Conference & Stage Expo in Houston, there was a rather long discussion of a book I am writing (along with my stand-in here). As a result, several people have been asking when the book, which is called A History of Stage Design and Technology, is to be published, and so I take this opportunity to say (not as a promotion of the book so much as an answer to that question) that it will be published during the coming year.

I am also pleased to report that my award and this book are closely connected with Robert Tobin, who received the same award in 1992 that I am being given here tonight. Robert Tobin, as you may know, was one of the major collectors in the United States of scenic designs and became the founder of the Robert L. B. Tobin Fund for Theatre Arts, which is supporting our book. This project was a dream of Robert Tobin’s, and we are pleased that we can put forth an account of the development of scenic design and the technology that has made it possible to put scenery on stages -- from the beginning to the present. Robert hoped and we hope that what we are doing will be of great interest and help to all of you in the field of design and technology.

I look upon it as the culmination of my career. I thank you most heartily for your attention and for this honor.

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Margaret Mitchell received the USITT Award on behalf of Oscar Brockett. The USITT Award is given to recognize a lifetime contribution to the performing arts community. It was presented as part of the Awards Banquet which concluded the 2009 Annual Conference.

Photo/Tom Thatcher