Corrections or additions?

This article was prepared for the September 19, 2001 edition

of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

From Adversity to the Arts

As citizens around the globe last week struggled to

make sense of the enormity of the terrorist attack on New York and

Washington, McCarter Theater was preparing to welcome Broadway

producer

and Princeton alumnus Roger S. Berlind to the groundbreaking for the

construction of the Roger S. Berlind Theater, which takes place on

Thursday, September 20, at 5:30 p.m.

The project was initiated in 1998 with a $3.5 million gift from Roger

S. Berlind, a member of Princeton’s Class of 1952.

Nathan Lane is among the theater professionals who have weighed in

with an endorsement of Berlind’s gift. "What a tremendous honor

it must be for Roger to have a theater named after him," he said

when the gift was announced. "By the way, who the hell was Alice

Tully?"

We reached Berlind in London on Thursday where he took time to share

some of his thoughts.

Berlind, 70, is an alumnus of both Princeton’s Triangle Club and

Theatre

Intime. After making his first reputation in finance, his 20-year

career as a theater producer has brought more than 30 productions

to the Broadway and Off-Broadway stages, from big, entertaining

musicals

to more challenging works by playwrights such as Arthur Miller, Edward

Albee, and John Guare.

Some notable successes have included the original "Amadeus,"

"City of Angels," and the current revival of "Kiss Me

Kate." Berlind has won 12 Tonys to date, the most recent for this

year’s successful and serious drama "Proof" by David Auburn;

the year before for "Copenhagen" by Michael Frayn.

From London, Berlind has brought such recent successes as Patrick

Marber’s "Closer" and David Hare’s "Amy’s View." He

was co-producer of David Hare’s "The Judas Kiss" and the Tony

Award-winning revival of "A View from the Bridge." Berlind’s

film production credits include "I.Q." and "Beyond

Therapy."

That some Berlind shows failed to meet their mark comes with the

territory.

These include two big recent musicals, "The Life" and

"Steel

Pier," neither of which recouped their original investment.

Berlind says his original desire to be in theater was "derailed

along the way by the finance community."

"I traveled with the Triangle Club on its Christmas tour, I

performed

in the show, and I wrote songs for the following year," Berlind

explains. "Getting involved in the Triangle Club required you

to stay up until two in the a.m. As I remember my grades went down

almost to expulsion levels."

These early experiences, including a passion for the then-current

Broadway show "Guys and Dolls," whetted his appetite for a

career in songwriting.

"I spent a year and a half writing songs when I got out of the

army. That proved not remunerative. I stumbled into Wall Street, never

having had an economics course. It seemed to be good timing —

the business had been moribund for years. I sort of caught a wave

and started my own, working with a couple of partners, and spent 15

years."

In 1960 he founded the brokerage firm Carter, Berlind, and Weill,

a firm that was eventually sold to Lehman Brothers. He has remained

a private investor and principal of his production company since 1981.

He has been a director of Lehman Brothers holding company since 1985.

More than 25 years ago, Berlind was struck by his own devastating

loss. Back in the summer of 1975, he went to the airport with his

two-year-old son to pick up his wife and three other children. On

that day the plane crashed, and his wife and three children were

killed.

Attempting to recover from the tragedy with his son, young William,

Berlind resigned from his brokerage firm and followed his heart back

to the theater. William Berlind graduated from Princeton in 1995.

Does Berlind have any advice for those affected by the September 11

tragedy?

"I don’t think there is any answer to that," he says slowly.

"It is something you never get over. It is with me every day.

It forces you to focus on what is really important, which is not

economics.

It is family. It is doing what you think is useful and valuable. Maybe

that was one of the motives that made me go into the theater as an

occupation. It is certainly not a business that you go into to make

money.

It’s educational, and it provides education or entertainment. I am

glad I am doing it."

We asked Berlind which theater productions of the past

20 years have been most meaningful to him.

"There were lots of them. You don’t do anything if you don’t like

the product. Sometimes you like your ugliest child the best,"

he says, adding that he has as many fond memories of failures as he

does of successes. One of his most memorable successes was `Amadeus,’

he says, "because you don’t do a serious play expecting great

success."

"I am really proud of my `Kiss Me Kate’ production," he adds,

noting that it now has three productions running, one on Broadway

and two touring. "I think it is a much more intelligent musical

than most. It has style and wit, and the score, which is probably

Cole Porter’s best.

"I worked with the director, Michael Blakemore, on many

other shows. We cracked the nut on this one. What pleases me most

is seeing young people, who have been weaned on much simpler music,

turn on to the Cole Porter score."

Now Berlind is putting his money behind his belief that a new

theater can represent an important asset for Princeton. "The

university

always needed a first-class theater for its theater and dance program,

for rehearsal space, and for McCarter," he says. "It helps

turn the complex into a real arts center."

The 350-seat Roger S. Berlind Theater, to be constructed on McCarter’s

south lawn, has been designed by Hugh Hardy of Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer

Associates. A member of Princeton’s Class of 1954 and a Triangle Club

alumnus, Hardy and his firm have been responsible for such

high-profile

theater projects as the Radio City Music Hall restoration, the New

Victory Theater, the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey Theater and

Rose Cinemas.

The Berlind Theater’s two-and-a-half year design process was completed

in July, 2001, when the project received its final approval. Enclosed

by a gable roof, its principal materials are textured bricks and

stone,

designed to complement the brick, stone, and slate of the existing

building.

Over the course of the design process, the cost of the theater has

been revised upward from an initial estimate of $8 million to $14.1

million, and its opening date moved forward from early 2001 to 2003.

More than $13.5 million of the construction budget has been raised

to date.

The Berlind Theater also represents a new partnership between McCarter

and the university’s Program in Theater and Dance, directed by Michael

Cadden.

As Berlind noted in 1998, "I remain a competitive animal. I

want to move the program in theater from excellence to

preeminence."

While most people are aware of the traditional sports rivalry between

Princeton and Yale, the vaunted Yale Drama Department has been a

leader

in the field and the alma mater of many of Berlind’s theater

colleagues.

"Beat Yale, that’s my motto," he says today.

Berlind’s gift grew out of a question he posed to Cadden more than

four years ago: What it would take to raise the university program’s

level of excellence? Cadden’s response — a small, purpose-built

theater, which, Cadden believes, will not only give theater arts more

stage time but also more appropriate access to professional production

facilities.

Cadden’s concept for a purpose-built theater dovetailed nicely with

Mann’s long-held desire for a stage to complement the 1,100-seat

McCarter

mainstage, recently renamed the Marie and Edward Matthews Theater.

Mann says the new, significantly smaller venue will be used to develop

new works, revive classics, foster a compelling actor-audience

relationship,

and allow for extended runs of McCarter productions. The Berlind

Theater

will also serve as the principal performance venue for the

university’s

program. It will house two rehearsal rooms, including a black-box-size

rehearsal space, classrooms, and offices.

Berlind’s initial $3.5 million gift was announced in November, 1998,

at a press conference enhanced by the glamour of actress Glenn Close.

In 1976, Close, just two years into her professional career, was

featured

in Berlind’s first show, Richard Rodgers’ "Rex."

"Regional theaters are vital if the soul of this country is to

remain intact," said Close, who compared establishing a new

theater

to establishing a church. "It will inspire, challenge, and maybe

save those who enter." Also present to celebrate the theater’s

1998 launch was author Joyce Carol Oates. As Princeton University’s

Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor in the Humanities, Oates

has brought Berlind’s name before a huge audience around the world.

This week, from London, Berlind remained firm in his commitment to

the arts as a vital instrument for human understanding.

"Theater has been with us since the Greeks, and it has survived

every war that has taken place. It cannot be destroyed," he said.

"It is one of the great institutions of human society. That sounds

a little bit grand, doesn’t it? But theater has always been with us

and always will be with us. Some of our best thinkers have expressed

themselves through the medium of theater. It is a terrific way for

people to have a wonderful time and get insight about the business

of living."

Berlind Theater Groundbreaking, McCarter Theater,

91 University Place, 609-258-2787. Thursday, September 20, 5:30

p.m.


Previous Story Next Story


Corrections or additions?


This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com

— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.

Facebook Comments