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Tony Award-Winning Director Lloyd Richards Dies at 87

Tony Award-winning director Lloyd Richards, whose distinguished career in the theatre lasted half a century and who nurtured the work of playwrights such as August Wilson, has passed away.

Richards had turned 87 years old on June 29th, the day that he died at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York after a brief illness.

Richards, who was born in Toronto, Canada, on June 29, 1919, was raised in Detroit. After a time as a pre-law student at Wayne State University, he served in World War II. Returning from the war, Richards pursued his interest in theater and broadcasting; he became both an actor and an acting coach in the 50s'. During that time, Richards appeared on Broadway in A Phoenix Too Frequent/Freight and The Egghead.

His breakthrough in the theatre came as a director, when in 1959, he helmed Lorraine Hansbury's groundbreaking vision of African-American identity, A Raisin in the Sun. It was the first time that a play by a black woman had been produced on Broadway, and certainly the first time that a play by a black woman had been staged by a black director. He directed other shows on Broadway in the early to mid-sixties--including the plays The Long Dream and The Moon Besieged and the musicals I Had a Ball and The Yearling.

A professor of theatre and cinema at Hunter College for a time, he also became head of the actor training program at New York University's School of the Arts in 1966. In the early 80s, he became the artistic director of Yale Repertory Theatre and also served as the dean of the Yale School of Drama, retiring from both posts in 1991 but remaining on board as a professor emeritus. Under his leadership (and in collaboration with Managing Director Ben Mordecai), Yale Rep mounted numerous productions that would reach Broadway, including "MASTER HAROLD"...and the boys, Blood Knot, A Walk in the Woods and Long Day's Journey Into Night.

At Yale Rep, he also oversaw the premieres of numerous plays in August Wilson's 10-play chronicle of the African-American experience in the 20th century. There, he directed the first six plays in the series, all of which made it to Broadway--Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Fences, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, The Piano Lesson, Two Trains Running and Seven Guitars. He also directed Wilson's Seven Guitars on Broadway, although that play had not been seen at Yale.

For his work as a director, Richards won a Tony Award for Fences, and also received four more nominations (in addition to numerous nominations as a producer). Yale Rep won a Regional Theatre Tony Award in 1991. He was also the recipient of many other honors, including the Pioneer Award of AUDELCO, the Frederick Douglass Award and the National Medal of the Arts.

For 32 years, Richards had also served as the artistic director of the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center's National Playwrights Conference. While leading the program, he had encouraged and supported the artistic voices of many playwrights, including John Guare and Wendy Wasserstein.

"Lloyd Richards is irreplaceable. His like will not come again. The American theater and all those who had the privilege to work with him are the better for it. I am honored to have been part of Dean Richard's last graduating class at Yale and to have worked with him many summers at the O'Neill. I learned about the art of the theater from Lloyd, and, more importantly, the art of being a human being. Lloyd Richards was a gentle, quiet, patient man; with a will of steel. His determination and his artistry took the O'Neill's National Playwrights Conference to national and international acclaim. We are and will be forever in his debt," stated Amy Sullivan, executive director of the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center.

To honor Richards' memory and his lasting contributions to American theatre, the League of American Theatres and Producers, Inc. will dim the marquee lights of every Broadway theatre for one minute on June 30th at 8 PM.


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