Fred Newman, Playwright, Director (1935 - 2011)

For over two decades, Fred Newman has been a unique voice in the American theatre. Newman’s 30 highly original and entertaining plays and musicals are deeply philosophical and accessible, sharply political and non-didactic.

Frequently, characters in Newman’s plays (for example Mr. Hirsch Died Yesterday,Lenin’s BreakdownOuting WittgensteinRisky RevolutionaryWhat Is To Be Dead, and The Story of Truth: A Whodunit) find themselves uprooted suddenly from all that they know – their time and place in history, their race or sex, indeed, their very identities – and must cope with the existential/developmental task of having to become someone new. This is where the drama – and quite often, the comedy – lies in a Newman production. The audience follows Newman’s characters on their intensely philosophical journeys, and, with them, are asked to radically reconsider the fixity of everyday life and language; and to challenge the “ready-made” meanings we apply to our experiences. 

Newman drew his work from a broad range of theatre and performance genres including the avant-garde, the realist melodrama, the Broadway musical, the classic TV variety show, the opera, and the old-style vaudevillian revues and routines. He often wrote about historical figures – among them Jackie Robinson, Thomas Jefferson, Billie Holiday, Sally Hemings, Ludwig Wittgenstein, V.I. Lenin, Che Guevara, Jesus and Bertolt Brecht – characters whose “larger-than-life” personalities serve as a springboard for Newman’s rich and adventurous philosophical investigations. 

Newman designed and directed most of his work at the Castillo Theatre in New York City, which he founded, and where he served as artistic director and playwright-in-residence from 1989 to 2005. In addition to being staged at Castillo, Newman’s plays have been produced by The New Federal Theatre, at both the Philadelphia and San Francisco Fringe Festivals and at six of the annual meetings of the American Psychological Association. Newman collaborated with several creative artists. He has worked with Grammy-Award winning songwriter Annie Roboff to write several musicals, among them Sally and Tom (The American Way);Off-Broadway Melodies of 1592Still On the CornerKansas On My MindComing of Age in Korea; and Mantle, Maris, and Mom. In 1993 Newman collaborated with dancer/choreographer Amy Pivar and Social Therapist Freda Rosen to write and produce Requiem for Communism, a dance theatre piece that featured renowned dancer/choreographer Bill T. Jones, performed at Dance Theatre Workshop. In 2004, working with choreographer David Parsons, Newman wrote and directed the dance theatre piece License to Dream, featuring young performers from the All Stars Project together with members of the Parsons Dance Company.

Newman produced and directed the work of many leading playwrights and performance artists. He is one of the foremost American directors of the plays of the late Heiner Müller, one of the most important playwrights of the late 20th century. Starting in 1992 Newman directed nine productions of Muller’s texts, including the American premiere of Germania 3 Ghosts at Dead Man in 2001.

In 1995 Newman directed Aimé Césaire’s A Season in the Congo, later chosen for presentation at the international SERMAC theatre festival, held in Fort de France, Martinique, 1996. Newman’s 2000 production of Peter Weiss’ masterpieceMarat/Sade was nominated for the “Best of the Fest” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival. In 1993, the play Billie & Malcolm: A Demonstration written and directed by Newman, was nominated for five AUDELCO awards (celebrating excellence in Black Theatre), including nominations for best play and best director.

Newman’s feature film, Nothing Really Happens (Memories of Aging Strippers), which he both wrote and directed, stars Living Theatre founder Judith Malina. It was released in 2003 and garnered four film festival awards.