USITT Founders Award

Friday, March 23, 2018


To say that I am deeply honored and grateful for this Award would be a very British understatement.

Yes, I must admit to being a Brit by birth, although when President Obama took office, I decided to join and become a legal immigrant.  

But to be given the Founder’s Award, named after my friend Dr. Joel Rubin, is a high honor indeed . . . For three special reasons: 

First, I met Joel in December 1960 . . . In Berlin. We were both at an international theatre conference. I was 27 years old. We met, and also met a bunch of our peers from the UK and America. In a great German Pub, named  Hardtke’s,  we got to talking about what a good thing it would be if both our countries had some sort of social club, or organisation, where we might meet, and talk about theatre among friends. Joel returned to New York and founded USITT. I went  home to London and founded the British version: the ABTT.

Next, Joel was already an important man in stage lighting. While in Berlin, he took me to meet the top German stage lighting equipment manufacturer, Reiche & Vogel. There I saw their astonishingly powerful scene projection equipment. Back in London, I talked a producer into trusting to me a show, entirely staged with scene projection on a very large scale. It was a big hit, and a year later, I found myself on Broadway for the very first time in the US, as projection consultant to a big new musical: A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, with lighting by the late, wondrous, Jean Rosenthal. Other assignments followed, one, with the other lighting legend, Tharon Musser. Thus I became the projection wizard, the ‘Wendall Harrington’ of Broadway in the 1960’s!

But the third and last reason is even more fundamental:

In 1957 I was 24 years old. Already incredibly lucky, I was ASM on a West End production. Stage management had been my dream since the age of about 13. The reality on a long running show was a crashing disappointment. Boring! I was in despair!

One day, I wandered into Samuel French’s bookstore. A small brown-covered book caught my eye. “THEATRICAL LIGHTING PRACTICE” by Joel Rubin and Lee Watson. Opening it, I found my first ever lighting plan (by Peggy Clarke). The book said that in New York, there was a profession called: “the Lighting Designer!” I’d never heard of such a thing, but I instantly thought, “I could do that . . . Why, I’d lit all those school plays!”

Back at work that night,, my mentor, Production Stage Manager, Robert Stanton, said “Richard, important news! We have a new job, stage managing the hit from Broadway MY FAIR LADY, Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, it will run for five years!”

“Bob”, said I, “many thanks, but I’m going to do something new . . . I’m going to be a lighting designer!”

“You’re crazy.” Says Bob.

I was, but I did!

60 years later, we’re all here today. I met Dr Joel a few weeok ago, now approaching the venerable age of 90. He sent his best wishes to the Conference and all his USITT friends.

So, thank you, Joel. 

And thank you USITT. 

And thank you to the many, many friends that have made the comradeship of USITT, such a lifelong treasure.

We are the luckiest folk in the world. We work in theatre!

You’ll find theatre, and all the friends you will make, to be a lifelong delight.

Thank you.