Oscar Brockett

Oscar Brockett, a former UT professor, was one of the world’s leading theater historians, and his leadership will continue to be honored by the development of an academic research center in his area of expertise.

The Oscar and Lenyth Brockett Professorship in Theatre History has been established as the first endowment in support of the development of the Oscar G. Brockett Center for Theatre History and Criticism. The professorship will fund faculty and student research in theater history, allowing the plans of the center to move forward, said Brant Pope, chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance.

“With the assistance of Brockett’s daughter, Francesca Brockett, and her husband Jim Pedicano, we’ve achieved stage one of the plans to build the center,” Pope said.

Pope said the center will begin as a think tank in order to discuss how it will be structured.

“The legacy of Brockett will extend into the 21st century by being a think tank and will allow the discussion of all aspects of theater history and performance,” Pope said.

“We will be able to craft what that field of study would be in the 21st century, what kind of things we should be studying in that area, what kind of labs should we build and what the curriculum should be.”

During this stage, the center will also be able to fundraise and build toward raising enough money for an endowed chair of the Brockett Center, Pope said.

At the core of the center will be Brockett’s collection of books, papers, journals and artifacts, which will allow scholars to study and use his collection to write theater history, Pope said.

“Now that he’s gone, scholars that used to come to talk to him can now come to the center as a place of inspiration where [they] can use his collection and write and study theater history,” he said.

Douglas Dempster, dean of the College of Fine Arts, said UT has long been a top center of theater education in Texas and a center of cutting-edge theater scholarships in the country.

“Brockett, along with many other former and current faculty members, have been responsible for elevating UT’s theater history program to a top 12 ranking in the National Research Council’s evaluation of Ph.D. programs in theater,” Dempster said. “The creation of the Brockett Center and the Brockett Professorship is an expression of our and of our supporters’ institutional determination, to remain in this elite company of Ivy League and public flagship research universities.”

Heather Barfield, theater and dance graduate student and former student of Brockett, said he was a gentle professor, a thorough historian and an inquisitive thinker.

“Our opinions as students were respected and, in fact, requested in order to cultivate an appreciation for both the mysteries and grounded evidence of theater history,” Barfield said. “Having a professorship in his honor is a testament to Brockett’s profound effect upon countless students, scholars and historians, including those inside and outside theater studies.”

Printed on Tuesday, April 17, 2012 as: Brockett Center will honor former professor

Oscar Brockett, a former UT professor who was considered one of the world’s foremost theater historians, died early Sunday morning from a stroke. He was 87.

Brockett served as dean of the College of Fine Arts from 1978 to 1980. He left the post to run the Department of Theatre and Dance’s doctorate program, which he expanded from five students to 30.

“He was probably one of the most important theater historians, not only nationally but internationally,” said Richard Isackes, a UT theater professor who worked with Brockett. “He’s had a profound effect on theater students for the last three or four generations.”

Isackes said even though Brockett had retired from teaching full-time, he kept an office in the basement of the Winship Drama Building where he would talk to groups of graduate students throughout the day.

“He would regale them with stories about the department and about his teaching career,” Isackes said.

Theater professor Fran Dorn, who helped engineer Meryl Streep’s visit to the UT campus on Friday, said Brockett was known for empowering his students.

“He was frank and brilliant,” said Dorn, who moved into Rockett’s office after he retired. “Fortunately, I’m in his old office, and the vibe is very good in there.”

In 2001, the Winship Drama Building’s Theatre Room was renamed the Oscar G. Brockett Theatre in his honor. His friends and family also established a $500,000 trust to help pay for the theater’s productions and facility maintenance.

“I was totally shocked and surprised but very appreciative,” Brockett said after learning of the honor.

Born in 1923, Brockett grew up on a tobacco farm in rural Tennessee. He served aboard a troop transport ship in World War II, which delayed his undergraduate education. When he returned home from the war, he earned both his master’s and doctoral degrees at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

His 1968 book, “History of the Theatre,” is one of the most widely used texts in theater history courses. It has been translated into almost a dozen languages and is in its 10th edition.

Throughout his career, Brockett received many honors, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and Fulbright Award. He was also a fellow at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.