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APT Co-Founder Charles J. Bright Dies at 74

Charles J. Bright, 74, a co-founder of American Players Theatre in Spring Green, WI and one of the standard bearers of the classical theatre movement in America, died May 17, 2011 of complications following an 18 month battle with bladder cancer at his home in Great Meadow, NJ, according to classical theatre actor Randall Duk Kim and stage director Anne Occhiogrosso, Bright's life partners of four decades.

Bright joined with Mr. Kim and Ms. Occhiogross to establish American Players Theatre in 1980, which at the time of its opening was the country's sole Equity, outdoor rotating repertory theatre devoted to the great international classical repertoire. Founded with private funds pooled by the three theatre artists, American Players Theatre was literally carved by hand from a 70-acre wilderness on the outskirts of Spring Green, WI (pop 1,200) with the help of two paid engineers and a group of volunteers from the local Spring Green community. The opening season, on an outdoor stage modeled after The Guthrie Theatre with seating for 704, featured an 18-member Equity company in scrupulously researched, authentically costumed and rigorously rehearsed productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream and Titus Andronicus. Key to the company's artistic philosophy and early success was an intensive daily actor training academy which featured a mandatory curriculum of text study, documents of acting, music, tai chi, stage combat and stage make-up.

Bright served as managing director of American Players Theatre from 1980-89, overseeing productions of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Love's Labours Lost, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Romeo & Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, The Taming of The Shrew, Titus Andronicus, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Twelfth Night, Marlowe's Tamberlaine the Great Part 1, Ibsen's An Enemy of The People, Chekhov's Ivanov and The Seagull, and two Chekhov one act trilogies: The Proposal, On The Harmfulness of Tobacco and The Bear, followed by The Wedding, The Anniversary and Swan Song with Bright directing The Proposal and The Anniversary. Other APT productions under Bright's tenure included: Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, Plautus' The Twin Menaechmi and The Comedy of Asses and Sheridan's School for Scandal. Almost all of the productions featured Randall Duk Kim in the title or leading role and were directed by Anne Occhiogrosso. Fresh translations of classical, non-English plays were frequently commissioned.

Within five years, American Players Theatre's 18-week outdoor season was drawing an audience from Minneapolis, Chicago and Milwaukee, in addition to Wisconsin, as well as across the Midwest, offered a school matinee program for elementary and high school children from Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota and graduated its first class of journeyman actors from its training program. American Players Theatre was nominated for a Tony Award for "Outstanding Regional Theatre" under Bright's tenure and recently celebrated its 31st anniversary. Bright also served as president of the board of directors for five years.

Kim and Occhiogrosso recalled their life partner's resiliency and resourcefulness: "Chuck Bright was ‘one of a kind,' the likes of whom will rarely be seen again. He detested hypocrisy, loathed mediocrity and was so selfless, he preferred to remain in the background and do his work with no need of public acknowledgement or praise. Without Chuck, American Players Theatre would not exist today. When everyone else around him lacked the courage to move forward he took the brunt of harsh criticism and personal sacrifice to bring that place to life. The three of us were an invincible team and a unique and loving family. Our hearts are broken with his loss and the American theater is a much poorer place now that he is gone. As Hamlet said of his beloved father: ‘He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again.'"

Born in June 6, 1936 in Minneapolis, MN, Bright attended the University of Hawaii and served two years with the U.S. Army in Germany. Returning to Hawaii, Bright and Kim founded The Ensemble of Theatrical Artists, with Bright serving as board president, managing director and producer of Becket's End Game, Sartre's No Exit, Chekhov's The Proposal and Kim's original one man shows on Mark Twain and Edgar Allan Poe. Later, Bright produced Kim's one man show "What Should Such Fellows as I Do?" which Occhhiogrosso compiled and directed.

Bright served as press agent and national sales director for companies of the rock musical Hair in New York City, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Toronto, Seattle, Detroit, San Francisco and Las Vegas. Bright also served as director of sales and promotion for the John F. Kennedy Center for The Performing Arts. More recently, Bright was a producer for Classical Productions, Inc., in Hilo, Hawaii, where he produced The Best is Yet to Come and Moliere's Tartuffe, served as manager of Strictly Personal at the Soho Playhouse, Quien Mato A Hector Lavoe at The 47th Street and Murder in America at the McGinn/Cazale Theatre. Bright also represented a variety of New York theatre artists.

Bright is also survived by two sisters, Ruby Delzer and Barbara Hoover. Burial services were private and details on a celebration of life will be announced shortly.


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