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This article was prepared for the September 19, 2001 edition
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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
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
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
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
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
That some Berlind shows failed to meet their mark comes with the
These include two big recent musicals, "The Life" and
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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."
theater can represent an important asset for Princeton. "The
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
theater projects as the Radio City Music Hall restoration, the New
Victory Theater, the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey Theater and
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
designed to complement the brick, stone, and slate of the existing
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
The Berlind Theater also represents a new partnership between McCarter
and the university’s Program in Theater and Dance, directed by Michael
As Berlind noted in 1998, "I remain a competitive animal. I
want to move the program in theater from excellence to
While most people are aware of the traditional sports rivalry between
Princeton and Yale, the vaunted Yale Drama Department has been a
in the field and the alma mater of many of Berlind’s theater
"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
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
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
and allow for extended runs of McCarter productions. The Berlind
will also serve as the principal performance venue for the
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
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
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
91 University Place, 609-258-2787. Thursday, September 20, 5:30
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