In Memoriam: Audrey Stanley, Professor Emerita of Theater Arts

Audrey Stanley was born in Blackheath, London, on Monday, August 29, 1927. She was the second daughter of John Stanley and Alice (Smith) Stanley; her sister Joyce was eight years her senior. They lived over the Crown and Anchor beside the Thames in Woolwich, the inn that was the family business; however, because Audrey was declared “sickly,” they moved to the more salubrious seaside town of Whitstable on the north coast of Kent, where Audrey grew up very close to the sea. Living near London, she and her parents were regular theatregoers. From an early age she was taken to Christmas pantomimes where audience participation was encouraged; when still young she wrote and performed plays with friends.

She was educated at the William Gibbs Grammar School in nearby Faversham. Her years there coincided with the Second World War. Audrey nevertheless excelled at school; she had the good fortune to be taken with others to London to see productions with the great actors of the time, including Laurence Olivier and Alec Guinness. In 1946 she entered University of Bristol to study English and Philosophy; she chose Bristol rather than Oxford University because she observed that there were many women on the faculty there and the university evinced a more progressive attitude towards innovation and experimentation. When in 1947 Bristol established the first program in Drama in an English university, led by the eminent theatre historians Glynne Wickham, H. D. F. Kitto, and Bertram Joseph, Audrey with five others became the first students in the program, which involved study at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre. She graduated in 1950, by which time she had founded and been the president of the University Dramatic Society and directed its first tour to towns and villages in southwestern England; “Theatre should not be just for those in the cities,” she would say.

Upon graduating, she stayed another year to receive a Certificate of Education, a teaching qualification. She then spent a year as a schoolteacher in Yorkshire; taught for four years in an art school in Surrey; and served for eight years as a lecturer in two different teacher training colleges in the midlands, where she set up new programs in drama and taught a wide variety of courses including film making and appreciation. In 1965, when she was Senior Lecturer in Drama and Chair of the Drama Department at the City of Birmingham Training College, an opportunity arose for her to leave England. By coincidence, her doctor had recommended that she leave the English climate for the sake of her health.

After teaching the academic year in Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, she spent six months in Greece on a course at Delphi offered through the Dramatic Arts Department at Berkeley; Audrey had already been actively researching sites of Ancient Greek theaters. Inspired by this experience, which included stage managing a production in the theater at Delphi, in Fall 1966 she entered the newly established doctoral program at Berkeley as a means of advancing her research. When in 1970, after only four years, she completed her dissertation, which was accompanied by a film she made of three fifth-century BCE theater sites, she was the first student in the program to be awarded the Ph.D.

Audrey’s appointment in 1969 to the faculty at UCSC came at a critical moment for the future of theatre and of the arts in general on the campus. College Five (now Porter College) was to open in the Fall Quarter as the “arts college,” and that meant not only a great increase in the proportion of Arts faculty on campus but also changes in the curricula and administration of those fields, all of which were under the direction of the Division of Humanities. In the prior academic year, the Board of Studies in Literature had pressed for the establishment of Drama as a separate academic unit; previously faculty in Drama had been Lecturers in Literature on short contracts, providing courses most significantly through the colleges. In the spring of 1969, the Committee of Studies in Theater Arts was established. A few months earlier Audrey had been appointed as the first of two tenure-track appointments. At that time still lacking the doctoral degree, she was given the uncommon rank of Acting Associate Professor of Theater Arts. By the end of her first year, she had been awarded the degree and so became one of the first female tenured professors on campus and the first in Theater Arts.

Audrey’s leadership was fundamental in the development of Theater Arts. She embraced the union of drama, film, and dance, believing particularly in the need for students to be acquainted with filmmaking. She pushed for the appointment of faculty with diverse talents; attuned to the campus’ openness to experimentation, she believed in the students’ exposure to a great range of opportunities in their education. Although she was frustrated by the way in which the diminished budgets of the 1970s inhibited the expansion of Theater Arts, she was relentless in her quest for new positions and remained a powerful advocate for her department.

She was an excellent teacher, dynamic and demanding, setting very high targets for her students but always encouraging them as they confronted her challenges, asking them to respond imaginatively and to take risks; an admirer of Peter Brook and Joan Littlewood, she called her introduction to theatre course “Experiments in Theatre.” Her classroom was a place where practical activity was accompanied by an intellectual commitment to understanding and interpreting theatrical texts. Joy and delight in the communal activity were always manifest, but so were rigor and responsibility. She instilled in her students her own passionate involvement with the Ancient Greek dramatists and Shakespeare. Her first major production at UCSC was Aristophanes’ The Congresswomen in May 1970, performed in the Quarry by two casts, one all male (as in Ancient Athens), the other conventionally gendered. Both were fine, entertaining comic performances; they were also instances of experiential research, examining (in a less gender-conscious period than the present) the representations of women and their relation to comic practice, particularly when the productions were presented in sequence on one scorching Sunday afternoon and evening. She did not, however, restrict herself to classic texts when she directed students in productions. Aristophanes and Shakespeare were featured, but she also directed plays by Ben Jonson, Henrik Ibsen, Günter Grass, Lee Blessing, and Emily Mann; she took particular delight in directing Oh What A Lovely War, a musical developed by Joan Littlewood’s company Theatre Workshop in London’s East End.

As a director she brought a meticulous attention to the language of the plays; she engaged in “word work” with her actors, taking them through the details of the words of their role, exploring possibilities and engaging imaginations. She rarely cut a Shakespeare text, manifesting an almost religious devotion to the Folio. In later years she conceded that responsible cutting could have positive consequences in performance; respect for the text replaced reverence of the text. Her productions were not notable for unique interpretive concepts or quirky readings. However, she liked to experiment with using new spaces to enlarge the audience’s experience. She performed the street fight that begins Romeo and Juliet in the plaza of the Performing Arts Complex before the audience moved inside to see the rest of the play enacted on the Main Stage. Her A Midsummer Night’s Dream took place in a meadow location opposite what would become the Sinsheimer-Stanley Glen; in this production, which also toured to other UC campuses, the audience sat on a large circular sheet while the action took place around them. This was not difference for difference’s sake, but a desire to see how the work would be created and operate in a new environment, and how the audience community could be constructed.

During the 1970s Audrey had an ambition to set up an annual festival of Greek theatre; she engaged in conversations about it with at least one prospective collaborating colleague, but nothing came of it. However, at the same time she began to receive invitations to direct Shakespeare plays at festivals. The founding Artistic Director of Ashland Shakespeare Festival (now the Oregon Shakespeare Festival), Angus Bowmer, invited her to direct The Winter’s Tale in the new indoor Bowmer Theater in 1975. She thus became the first woman to direct a Shakespeare play at Ashland, and the success of her production led to an invitation four years later to return to direct As You Like It. She directed Henry IV Part 1 at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival; Berkeley Shakespeare Festival engaged her to direct The Tempest. When, upon the death in 1980 of the eminent UCSC Shakespeare scholar Professor C. L. Barber, who had greatly admired her production of The Winter’s Tale, a group of faculty led by Professor Dane Archer proposed the establishment of a town-and-gown Shakespeare festival on the campus to honor his memory, Audrey was perfectly positioned to lead such an organization as Artistic Director. With characteristic boldness she persuaded Karen Sinsheimer, the new wife of Chancellor Robert Sinsheimer, to head the Board of Directors and they proved a dynamic pair.

She had numerous contacts among actors in the Royal Shakespeare Company in England as well as on the west coast of the U.S. She had for many years been connected with ACTER, an organization run by Professor Homer Swander of UCSB that brought troupes of five English actors, usually members or veterans of the RSC such as Tony Church, Julian Curry, Patrick Stewart, and Paul Whitworth, to tour US campuses, teaching classes and giving performances; Church and Stewart had enjoyed residencies on the Santa Cruz campus. Such contacts enabled her to envision a festival that would incorporate highly esteemed English actors with west coast, local, and UCSC student actors into an acting company performing plays in repertory, including non-Shakespearean works. She also saw a role for scholars; she believed that artists and academics could enhance each other’s work. The enterprise would be marked by imaginative creativity and intellectual responsibility. Such was the foundation of Shakespeare Santa Cruz, along with the identification of the Glen as an appropriate outdoor performance space that proved to be a fertile, versatile, magical, and much-loved venue.

What began in the summer of 1982 would prove to be Audrey’s greatest accomplishment: Shakespeare Santa Cruz and its successor company, Santa Cruz Shakespeare, have been an extraordinary gift to UCSC, to Santa Cruz, and to the theatre world. In the first season there were two productions: on the Main Stage King Lear, which she directed with two RSC actors, Tony Church and Julian Curry, and in the newly discovered Glen, later to be designated the Sinsheimer-Stanley Festival Glen, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Forty years later the Festival continues to thrive, performing a full summer season in The Audrey Stanley Grove in DeLaveaga Park. During her period as Artistic Director she oversaw the initial development of the company: she increased the range of offerings presented in repertory and brought in new directors and actors, including Professor Michael Edwards, who succeeded her as Artistic Director in 1988, and Professors Danny Scheie and Paul Whitworth, who would follow Michael Edwards. She was unfailingly generous in her support of artists—directors, actors, designers–younger than herself. She had a particular desire to support women in their pursuit of careers in the theatre. She was always open to change, reluctant to frustrate what might be another’s dynamic approach or a genuine novel creative impulse.

Under successive artistic directors the Festival has grown into the current highly regarded professional Equity company that draws artists from across the country and runs a thriving intern program for young artists; the Festival has a national reputation. It has founded or developed the careers of numerous actors, directors, and designers. Hundreds of thousands of spectators have attended productions since 1982. It has staged all but seven of the Shakespeare plays, many several times; plays by dramatists as various as Tirso de Molina, Molière, Ibsen, Chekhov, Shaw, Synge, Sartre, Beckett, Albee, and Mamet; and original winter holiday shows after the manner of English pantomimes, such as Cinderella and The Princess and the Pea written by Kate Hawley. Such a rich and varied diet of theatre is remarkable for a community of the size of Santa Cruz. The Festival has played and continues to play a major role in the city’s life; it has been responsible for introducing large numbers of local residents to the pleasure of live theatre and has had a lasting impact on many young people.

Audrey envisaged the Festival as contributing to the education of the general public and to the cultural enrichment of the local community. In 1982 she organized a discussion of the season’s plays between actors, university faculty, and local teachers; that event continues annually as Weekend with Shakespeare, a series of talks by scholars and discussions of the season’s plays, now organized by UCSC’s Shakespeare Workshop in collaboration with the Festival. In response to requests for presentations in local schools, the Festival developed Shakespeare To Go. In Spring Quarter each year Shakespeare To Go takes a shortened version of a play on tour to schools throughout Santa Cruz County and beyond. The program is now administered by UCSC’s Department of Performance, Play & Design; the production is directed by a faculty member, but the organization and administration of the daily activities of the touring company are completely the responsibility of the students themselves, a manifestation of Audrey’s pedagogical principles at work. Currently Santa Cruz Shakespeare itself offers a week of matinees to local schools; each year as many as a thousand students attend them with their teachers.

She remained closely involved with the Festival for over forty years, devoting her life to its flourishing. However, Audrey’s dedication to theatre in Santa Cruz was not limited to the company she founded. She was also an ardent supporter of the city’s other professional theatre, the Jewel Theatre Company, which now resides in the Colligan Theater in the Tannery Arts Center. Until the last few months of her life, Audrey regularly attended the Jewel Theatre’s opening nights and was a generous financial supporter of the company on whose Advisory Committee she served.

Always fascinated by performance, Audrey rose to the challenge when invited to take to the Festival stage herself. Happy to be directed by others, she appeared in three Shakespeare Santa Cruz productions. She was a plaintive Duchess of Gloucester in Richard II in 1986, an Old Woman aiding Gloucester in King Lear in 1995, and most memorably a flying Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1991. As Puck, Audrey made her spectacular entrances by zooming over the heads of the audience on a long descending zip-line fastened to a neighboring tree and landing stage-center–at the age of 63. The spirit of adventure and imaginative daring that she brought to the creation of the Festival was matched by her refusal at all times to be deterred from her aims. She was determined and persistent in the pursuit of her objectives; she did not like to take no for an answer. When in 2013 the UCSC campus decided to close Shakespeare Santa Cruz permanently, she joined an exploratory committee to investigate whether a new, independent non-profit company might be created to continue her legacy. At Audrey’s request, Patrick Stewart joined the advisory committee for this endeavor, placing her efforts in the national spotlight. The committee, with Audrey’s help and personal support, raised over $1.1 million to found Santa Cruz Shakespeare in 2014, and Audrey joined the new board of directors before transitioning to the role of “honorary director” in 2015. When the UCSC campus decided that after the 2015 season the Glen and other campus facilities would no longer be made available to the festival, she backed the effort to find a new venue. When a suitable site was located, she supported the project wholeheartedly and donated generously towards the construction of the playing space that bears her name, The Audrey Stanley Grove.

In retirement, Audrey did not confine herself professionally to directing, acting, going to plays, and promoting the Festival. She co-directed an NEH Institute at the Folger Shakespeare Library, and she regularly led workshops on the theatrical exploration of the Folio texts at the annual meetings of the Shakespeare Association of America, where she commanded great respect. She also returned to an earlier interest: playwriting. Having seen in 1984 an exhibition of Van Gogh’s work, in her mind she saw a play. After years of research she completed a play, Call Me Vincent, about Van Gogh and Gauguin which won an award in the New Works of Playwriting merit contest in 2005. Audrey reflected, “One of the things in retiring, I thought I would get back to playwriting and I found it fascinating because I suddenly realized that by doing that and learning what works, what doesn’t work, I began listening to Shakespeare’s plays entirely differently.”

As one of her former students observed, “She was a force of nature.” She was a visionary and a trailblazer. Small of stature, she was large in spirit, and indefatigable. Till late in her life she liked to fly to London and spend a week visiting those friends whom she called her “English family” and seeing one and sometimes two plays each day. As long as she could, she went to every performance in the Grove to greet people personally as they entered and to talk with them at intermission; she appreciated the fidelity and the intelligence of the audience. In her later years she still attended rehearsals regularly, sitting perfectly still over long periods watching the actors; if asked during breaks, she would make brief discerning and constructive observations. In her last season in 2021 she attended matinees, always sitting in the front row, delighting in being a part of an audience that she would describe as “breathing together” in their absorption with the stage action; the communal experience pleased her. After her youthful experience of the importance of the arts in communities during the Second World War, and in her devotion to Ancient Greek Theatre as an expression of urban identity, Audrey was profoundly committed to the role of the arts in a healthy society. She dedicated her life to enriching the lives of others through the theatre. It is fitting that the two performance spaces that bear her name are located in places dear to her heart—the UCSC campus and the city of Santa Cruz.

Audrey was a vibrant, witty, creative, strong-willed, and kindly woman who loved life and people; many will miss the distinctive sound of her laugh. On May 15 in the morning, she died in her Santa Cruz home with her beloved cat Lulu nearby. No immediate family survive her, but scores of friends, colleagues, fellow artists, and many generations of former students mourn her loss.