Mike Emery
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Sidney Berger Draws Curtain on Prolific CareerFormer School of Theatre & Dance Director and Houston Shakespeare Festival Founder to Retire This Spring

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February 2, 2009-Houston-
For four decades, Sidney Berger helped aspiring stage stars rise from the University of Houston's School of Theatre & Dance and ascend to professional heights. Some headed to Hollywood while others made their way to regional stages and classrooms. No matter where they went, Berger viewed each of his students as shining products of theater education at its finest.

Now, Berger, the John and Rebecca Moores Professor of Theatre and the school's former director, has decided to depart the university he has called home for 40 years. Berger will retire from UH at the conclusion of the spring semester. He will direct one last UH production, the Houston premiere of Edward Albee's "At Home at the Zoo," which runs Feb. 13 - 22 in the university's Jose Quintero Theatre.  Albee, a former distinguished UH theater professor, is scheduled to attend the Feb. 21 performance.

"I have had a wonderful career here at the university," Berger said. "I could not think of another place I would have wanted to spend 40 years of my professional life. I have worked alongside so many wonderful people, but now, I feel that a new generation of artists needs to prepare tomorrow's great actors, writers and directors."

Berger is especially pleased that his final UH production will be a work from former colleague and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Albee.

"I once directed his play ‘A Delicate Balance,' and he came to see it," Berger said. "After the performance, he put his arm around me and said, ‘When are you going to do another one of mine?' Directing an Albee play is the best way to complete my career at UH. He is a true master of the craft, and I am honored to be part of this city premiere."

"At Home at the Zoo" is a two-act play that combines the playwright's 1959 debut production, "The Zoo Story," with a new act that was first produced in 2004, "Homelife."

When it debuted, "The Zoo Story" shocked audiences with its tale of a park bench encounter between the mild mannered Peter and volatile Jerry. "Homelife" provides a first act to this meeting and details an intense dialogue between Peter and his wife, Ann. Combined, the two acts have evolved into the current production "At Home at the Zoo." The play contains mature language that might not be suitable for young audiences.

"Since Sid is retiring now I think it's real nice that he's finishing with a play of mine," Albee said. "It was Sid who invited me to teach playwriting at his school, where I learned a lot about teaching and even some about playwriting."

Berger took the reins as School of Theatre & Dance's director in 1969 when it was just a small drama department. As director, he grew the small department into a nationally recognized theater program with celebrity faculty and soon-to-be celebrity students.

In addition to Albee, Berger brought noted faculty to campus including Royal Shakespeare Company founder Sir Peter Hall, Tony winner Jose Quintero and Pulitzer Prize winner Lanford Wilson. Broadway legend and Tony winner Stuart Ostrow was another Berger hire and remains on faculty.

"He ran a fine, humanistic ship, and his gentleness and his humor will be missed," Albee said. "There's much to be learned from Sid, whom I love dearly, and I hope those who follow him have the wisdom to learn it."

Among the students who shined under Berger's tutelage were Dennis and Randy Quaid, Loretta Devine ("Waiting to Exhale"), Robert Wuhl ("Batman," "Bull Durham"), Brent Spiner ("Star Trek: The Next Generation") and Jim Parsons (CBS' "Big Bang Theory).

Berger also was key in founding the Houston Shakespeare Festival, and he will remain the producing director for this event. A summertime tradition, the event has entertained tens of thousands of Houstonians each year with outdoor productions of the Bard's finest works starring professional cast members.

He also introduced children to the magic of theater through the annual Children's Theatre Festival (now Theatre for Young Audiences), which produced professional plays featuring the talents of Tony winners Jerry Bock ("Fiddler on the Roof") and Charles Strouse ("Annie").

Among Berger's accolades are the 1992 Esther Farfel Award, UH's highest faculty honor, and the 2007 Theatre Under the Stars Ruth Denney Award, which recognizes arts educators. In 2007, he also was recognized by U.S. Congressman Gene Green in the Congressional Record for his tireless efforts with the Houston Shakespeare Festival.

"I look forward to seeing more great things emerge from the school," Berger said. "I leave the university knowing that its commitment to theater is stronger than ever. I've had the best career one can ask for, and I will always be grateful to the students, faculty and community for making this school into what it is today."

The UH School of Theatre & Dance offers bachelor's and master's degrees in theater and teacher certifications in dance. Its graduate program consists of a master of arts in theater and masters of fine arts in theater with specializations in acting, directing and design. Each fall and spring, the school produces five plays performed in the Wortham Theatre and the Jose Quintero Theatre, two dance concerts, four graduate directing projects, one Theatre for Young Audiences play and the Houston Shakespeare Festival each summer. The school has benefitted from notable star faculty such as Edward Albee, Lanford Wilson, Sir Peter Hall and Jose Quintero. Among current faculty are Tony Award-winning playwright Mark Medoff ,Tony Award-winning producer Stuart Ostrow and Broadway dramaturg Mark Bly.

For details on UH's School of Theatre & Dance, visit www.theatredance.uh.edu.   

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Categories: Arts