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  • Brooks McNamara 1937–2009
  • Richard Schechner

Brooks McNamara, who passed away on 8 May 2009, was my longtime colleague. Our lives have followed closely parallel paths. Both of us served in the US Army, both earned MA degrees from the University of Iowa, both have PhDs from Tulane University. Brooks arrived at Tulane just as I was starting to teach there and edit TDR. He worked on TDR as a student assistant until he finished his dissertation in 1965 and took a job at the University of Delaware. In 1968, Brooks joined the Drama Department at NYU (reinvented in 1980 as Performance Studies). In 1969, Brooks designed the "Makbeth Maze," a walk-through prelude to my/The Performance Group's production of The Scottish Play.

Our contact with each other might have been casual once Brooks left Tulane were it not for the fact that in the academic year 1966/67 the Tulane Theatre Department exploded. Department chair Monroe Lippman resigned because he felt that the Tulane administration had double-crossed the department he had spent so many years developing. Core faculty members, including me, quit in sympathy. Enter Robert W. Corrigan, the Johnny Appleseed of American academic theatre, and the man who in 1958 had brought TDR from Carlton College to Tulane. (When Corrigan moved to Carnegie Mellon—then Carnegie Tech—in 1962, I took his Tulane job and TDR.) But Corrigan never stayed long anywhere. By 1966, he was at NYU running the new School of the Arts (not yet Tisch). Corrigan got wind of Tulane's undoing. He asked me to come to NYU in the fall of 1967, to bring TDR with me, and to head the Department of Drama and Cinema. Wisely, I knew my limitations. I told Corrigan to recruit Lippman as chair.


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Brooks McNamara in the Shubert Archive, 1986. (Courtesy of the Shubert Archive)

Lippman in turn brought Brooks. The five of us—known as "the Tulane Mafia": Corrigan, Lippman, McNamara, J. Michael Miller (another Tulane PhD), and me—were joined by Ted Hoffman, Corrigan's colleague from Carnegie (and TDR's Associate Editor). Miller and Hoffman recruited top professionals to do theatre training; producer Robert Saudek and longtime NYU teacher Haig Manoogian ran the film program. In terms of academics, at that point in time it all operated under the rubric of the Department of Drama and Cinema. Lippman, McNamara, and I took charge of theatre scholarship; cinema soon became its own department. Then graduate drama was separated from undergraduate drama. During the 1970s, performance studies emerged from drama, confirmed with the name change in 1980. Brooks was a very important player in the transformation from drama to performance studies.

What Brooks brought to the table in addition to his splendid scholarly abilities, was his Midwestern approach to life. Born in Peoria, Illinois, earning his BA from Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, and his MA from Iowa, Brooks radiated common sense nicely peppered with [End Page 7] irony. He focused his scholarly attention on popular entertainments. I really don't know what first drew him to these heretofore neglected acts and arts. Brooks was fascinated by medicine shows, mountebanks, jugglers, magicians, and all sorts of street performers. He loved burlesque, vaudeville, and the pizzazz of show business. Brooks wasn't taken in—but he knew that these entertainers were not getting the respect they deserved. Brooks set out to change that. He was still at it in 2001 when he wrote in TDR:

The theatre in any time is not exclusively made up of high art, but of a complex of related forms: popular and amateur entertainment, and, in the 20th century, to a great extent, radio, television, motion pictures, and the internet. Until recently, most of these have been ignored by historians of theatre and drama, though they are important influences on the theatre and are influenced by it. [ . . . ] In any case, it is a safe bet that most still are being ignored by the majority of scholars.

(45, 4 [T172]:125)

Brooks was interested in popular entertainments in their own right. But he also knew that the so-called high arts could not...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1531-4715
Print ISSN
1054-2043
Pages
pp. 7-9
Launched on MUSE
2009-11-01
Open Access
No
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