Herbert Blau 1926 – 2013

– back dustcover, The Impossible Theater: A Manifesto, Herbert Blau

I had avoided looking but my friend Herb is dead.

…not a bad write-up, here in the New York Times, but hardly covering his academic career and many polemical interventions – the contribution to critique and scholarship of:

The Impossible Theater: A Manifesto. New York: Macmillan, 1964; rpt. Collier, 1965.

Blooded Thought: Occasions of Theater. New York: Performing Arts Journal Publications, 1982.

Take Up the Bodies: Theater at the Vanishing Point. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982.

The Eye of Prey: Subversions of the Postmodern. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.

The Audience. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990.

To All Appearances: Ideology and Performance. London/New York: Routledge,1992.

Nothing in Itself: Complexions of Fashion. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999.

Sails of the Herring Fleet: Essays on Beckett. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000.

The Dubious Spectacle: Extremities of Theater, 1976-2000. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002

Reality Principles: From the Absurd to the Virtual. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2011.

As If: An Autobiography, Volume 1. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2011.

Programming Theater History: The Actor’s Workshop of San Francisco. New York: Routledge, 2013.

We began a correspondence in 2000. I’d read his Blooded Thought and The Eye of Prey and wrote him – subject line “Importunate Antipodean” – early one morning, before I rolled up the door at Brazil and began pulling coffee. An additional pretext was my response to Rt. Hon. Helen Clark’s call for submissions on cultural policy: a long letter to Helen … to which neither she nor her office, nor anyone I sent it to, replied. I attached it. Herbert Blau wrote back within 24 hours. The early years are lost on the hard-drive of the old Brazil PC but I remember he said that if our Prime Minister understood anything of what I’d written, we were doing a lot better than they in the US – in election year, the one ‘stolen’: Bush vs. Gore.

I was generally late writing to him to wish him a happy new year or happy birthday. In keeping, then, that I discover late he died on May 3, his 87th birthday. My last message from him arrived on April 17. I feel too sad to publish it here and it hardly represents the brilliance and bellicose intelligence of my friend. Only the generosity of his “run-on life” is there. Perhaps one day I will collect the correspondence such that I have still in my possession and present it together.

One story I recall: he was in Berlin, seeing Sasha Waltz’s Körper. After the show he was invited backstage to meet the dancers. One of them, he wrote to me, was also from New Zealand. Oh, he said to her, I only know one other person from there, Simon Taylor. Simon! replied Lisa, He’s a friend of mine.

Körper by Sasha Waltz – Trailer from Stephan Talneau on Vimeo.


Herb ended his final email: Really, all best, even if this ends with me,