BLAU, HERBERT (1926– ), U.S. theater director and educator. Born in New York, Blau received a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from New York University (1947), an M.A. in drama from Stanford University (1949), and a Ph.D. in English and American literature from Stanford (1954). He formed the Actor's Workshop in San Francisco with Jules *Irving, in 1952. One of Blau's innovative acts was to present a play to the inmates of San Quentin penitentiary. On November 19, 1957, a group of actors faced an audience of 1,400 convicts. No live play had been performed at San Quentin since Sarah Bernhardt had appeared there in 1913. Now, 45 years later, the play that had been chosen, largely because no women appeared in it, was Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot. It was an unequivocal success. Overall, this repertory theater was highly successful but failed financially, and closed in 1965. Blau and Irving then directed the Lincoln Center Repertory Theater, New York, but Blau resigned in 1968. His last extended work in the theater was as artistic director of the experimental group kraken (1968–81). Blau served as its first provost as well as dean of the School of Theater. A radical departure from the already innovative theater that Blau had been associated with, the work of kraken included some of the first productions in the U.S. of such controversial dramatists of the modernist period as Brecht, Beckett, *Pinter, Ionesco, Whiting, Arden, Duerrenmatt, Frisch, and Genet.
Blau was distinguished professor of English and Modern Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, where he was also a senior fellow at the Center for 20th Century Studies. Subsequently he was the Byron W. and Alice L. Lockwood Professor in the Humanities at the University of Washington.
Regarded as the reigning theorist of theater and performance in our time, Blau wrote many books on the subject. Sails of the Herring Fleet: Essays on Beckett (2000) traces Blau's encounters with the work of Samuel Beckett. He directed Beckett's plays when they were still virtually unknown, and for more than four decades remained one of the leading interpreters of his work. In addition to now-classic essays, the book includes two interviews – one from Blau's experience directing Waiting for Godot at San Quentin prison and one from his last visit with Beckett, just before the playwright's death. Take Up the Bodies: Theater at the Vanishing Point (1982) and Blooded Thought: Occasions of Theater (1982) received the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism. Other books by Blau include The Impossible Theater. A Manifesto (1964), The Eye of Prey: Subversions of the Post-modern (1987), The Audience (1990), To All Appearances: Ideology and Performance (1992), Nothing in Itself: Complexions of Fashion (1999), and The Dubious Spectacle: Extremities of Theater, 1976–2000 (2002).
Blau received The Kenyon Review award for literary excellence.
[Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]