Stephen J. Albert, executive director of Chicago's Court Theatre and a theatre administrator for decades at leading U.S. theatres, died on Dec. 29, 2017. He was 66.
Stephen J. Albert—I have read that name in correspondence, a myriad of playbills and in programs of some of America’s leading regional theatres. I’ve also written it endless times in emails and client documents, and until this moment, I didn’t realize that I have no idea what the “J” stands for. In a profession where billing often becomes the coin of the realm or the topic of endless negotiations, it never occurred to me to ask. Because for me, he was simply Steve.
I first came to know Steve—a colleague for nearly four decades, and a partner in our firm for more than 18 years—when I was hired as managing director of the Old Globe. At the time, he was general manager of the Mark Taper Forum, and when he heard of my appointment, without knowing me he sent a fax welcoming me to the neighborhood and offering any assistance I might need. That was Steve: welcoming, unpretentious and always ready to lend a hand. He could also be disarmingly funny. At the bottom of that fax he added, “P.S.: Don’t believe all those who say that Southern California is an impenetrable cultural backwater. I’m sure you and Jack will think of something.”
Steve was a gifted manager who truly loved the theatre and had the good fortune to work with four artistic directors, all of whom have had a lasting impact on our profession. It began when he became managing director of the Mark Taper Forum and moved into the office next door to Gordon Davidson. As with most deep and lasting relationships, he learned a lot from Gordon, bitched a lot about Gordon, and was unwavering in his love and support for Gordon.
After his tenure at the Taper, Steve moved on to join Greg Boyd at Houston’s Alley Theatre, and a few years later, was recruited to join Mark Lamos at Hartford Stage. He relished both assignments, but Hartford became home and the place where he and his wife, Terri, would raise their daughter, Jess. He loved the community and his work at Hartford Stage. In fact, he was so happy with both that he spoke incessantly of the joys of living in “tony” West Hartford and he would never fail to call me after an opening and describe Mark’s work in glowing terms and infinite detail.
Some years after Mark left Hartford to rejoin the ranks of freelance directors and our consulting practice was well-established, Steve once again began contemplating the prospect of managing another theatre, this time in partnership with Charlie Newell at the Court in Chicago. At the time he was considering the move, we had been partners in the firm for nearly 10 years, and when he called me to ask what I thought of the idea, I wasn’t terribly enthusiastic. To be precise, my response was something along the lines of, “What the fuck are you thinking?”
Of course, I was being selfish, and Steve, as always, was thinking about others. Terri had an extraordinary professional opportunity at the University of Chicago, and after years of her moving to support his career, he felt it was time to reverse roles. He also believed he could make a positive difference at a theatre that he considered to be important and needed his help. He was right on both counts.
When Charlie was recently asked about Steve’s impact at Court, he replied, “Steve has been a gifted and visionary creative partner whose work has transformed Court Theatre as an institution and myself as an artist…He also became a dear, close friend, and I am the better man for that.”
As for supporting Terri, he never looked back. His family—Terri, Jess, and his brother, Larry—were the center of his universe. In fact, Terri and Jess were so much the center of his universe that should you happen to be on the phone with him when one of them called, without apology or excuse, he would simple say, “It’s Jess, I’ll call you right back,” and the next thing you heard was a dial tone. I quickly—well, sort of quickly—learned not to take it personally. He truly wasn’t being rude, he was just being there for those he cherished. What a gift those three had.
In the days since Steve’s passing, my inbox has been overflowing with emails from countless people offering their condolences. To a person, they also shared their deeply held gratitude for the kind man who took an interest in them, offered sage advice when asked, and listened attentively when others wouldn’t. In one loving tribute after another, they wanted me to know how special he was. For me he was all that. Steve, no middle initial required.
Tom Hall is managing partner of AlbertHall&Associates and former managing director of the Old Globe in San Diego.