On July 12, theatre artist Steven Kent died in his home overlooking Echo Park in Los Angeles after a prolonged battle with Parkinson’s Disease and other illnesses. Steven, who was 74, was a professional director, educator, community activist, and advocate committed to the theatre arts as an instrument for transformation and social justice. Notably, in the early 1980s, Steven collaborated with Joseph Chaikin on a translation/adaptation of Samuel Beckett’s Texts For Nothing and How It Is as a theatrical monologue. Mel Gussow of The New York Times wrote that “passing a lifetime in 55 minutes…Texts is a dramatic gem mined from Beckett’s prose.”
When the collaborators approached the famously prickly Beckett about adapting his work, the writer sent back a single white card with “Samuel Beckett” on one side and “You have carte blanche” on the reverse. The piece was revived in the 1990s, directed by Chaikin and featuring Bill Irwin. Steven also collaborated with Chaikin on Sam Shepard’s The War in Heaven.
Based in Los Angeles, Steven was founder and director of the Company Theatre (1967-72) and the Provisional Theatre (1972-82). Across the nation, he directed productions at the New York Shakespeare Festival, Manhattan Theatre Club, Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles Theatre Center, Illusion Theatre in Minneapolis, 7 Stages in Atlanta, the Guggenheim Museum, Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica, the Edinburgh Festival, and Dance Theater Workshop in New York. He also directed six productions with the Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb and Varazdin, and led workshops with Deena Metzger in Greece and Crete based on The Eleusinian Mysteries. He later directed numerous productions at Tennessee Repertory Theatre and also worked with Jean-Claude Van Itallie on Early Warnings and Bag Lady (with Shami Chaikin).
As an activist committed to social justice, racial equity, and LGBT issues, Steven worked with a diverse range of community-based artists and organization, including Carpetbag Theatre in Kentucky, A Traveling Jewish Theatre in California, Roadside Theatre in Virginia, Junebug Theatre Project in Louisiana, Cornerstone Theater Company in Los Angeles, the Urban Bush Women in New York, Artists Confronting AIDS, the Montana Gay and Lesbian Story Project, AIDS/US/Women, the Road Company in New York, Joan Hotchkis, Jeff McMahon, Jo Carson, Nina Wise, John Fleck, and John O’Neal.
Steven received three L.A. Drama Critics Circle awards, and an artists in residency grant from the Theatre Communications Group (TCG). A prominent member of Alternate ROOTS, Steven’s extensive work with Southern theatre companies led to his recognition as an honorary citizen of New Orleans. In 1992, he became director of theatre at the University of La Verne (ULV)) in California. His academic work was recognized by the California Educational Theatre Association South as Outstanding University Theatre Professor of the Year. His final ULV production was Chekhov’s The Three Sisters in 2016.
A fiercely dedicated teacher, Steven had many wise adages, including, “We are working to create our future colleagues.” His friend and collaborator Deena Metzger recalls, “Steven created an environment for the actors to be transformed by the role and the play. He brought the same respect and generous expectations to accomplished actors and to students, and called his process Conscious Acting.”
Steven’s files will be archived at the ONE Institute at USC and at the University of LaVerne. He is survived by his partner Ivica Bojcic, his sister Gay Bossart, and many friends at his apartment building, affectionately known as “Laguna Castle,” where he resided since 1975. There will be a private memorial in Los Angeles.
Contributions in Steven’s name may be made to the Theatre Department at the University of La Verne and the ONE Institute at USC.