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June 15, 2014

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: Award-winning director from TH, Stuart Vaughan, dies

TERRE HAUTE — An award winning director and an innovative playwright, Terre Haute native Stuart Vaughan died at his residence in High Bridge, N.J. on Tuesday, June 10, 2014.

He was 88 years old, having devoted more than 65 years to the American stage.

Described as “a true Renaissance Man of the theatre” by “Broadway World,” he was born Aug. 23, 1925 at 919 N. 13th St., the only child of John Harwood and Paulette Rosalie Vaughan. His father was a traveling auto accessory parts salesman. During much of his youth the Vaughans resided with the Henry Walker family, his maternal grandparents.

He was christened John Walker Vaughan, the name by which he was known while attending McKeen Elementary School, Garfield High School, where he graduated in 1942, and Indiana State Teachers College, which awarded him a degree in 1946. He also earned a M.A. from Indiana University in 1952.

Indiana State University conferred Vaughan with a Doctorate of Humane Letters in 2000. He also received an honorary doctorate from Rowan University of Glassboro, N.J.

For many years he was the James Marsh Professor-at-Large at the University of Vermont.

Vaughan had an early introduction to speaking before large audiences. When he was in the first grade at McKeen, he recited the Greek story of “The Gorgon’s Head” to the entire Garfield student body in assembly.

As a Boy Scout, Vaughan studied American Indian songs and dances with Indian Lore counselor John Grable, later Chief Illiniwek at the University of Illinois. His dancing dexterity earned him a role in “Robin Hood,” a production of the Children’s Theatre of Terre Haute directed by Lillian Decker Masters.

Upon enrolling at Indiana State, Vaughan majored in speech and theatre. He became a campus leader, known for his tweed coats and “mean trumpet.” The theatre department was headed by Dr. Robert W. Masters, whom Vaughan called “one of the most effective teachers I have ever met.”

Dr. Masters’ enlistment in Navy during World War II affected the Indiana State theatre department. The war also reduced the number of males available to participate in theatre projects. As a result, Vaughan played a prominent role in virtually every Sycamore Players’ production and also worked with Community Theatre and Children’s Theatre.

On June 4, 1945, a few weeks before Vaughan received his B.S., his father – a captain in the U.S. Army Air Corps – was killed on Mindoro Island in the Philippines. Following the tragedy, Stuart enrolled in the graduate program at IU. Between college and graduate school, he made his professional debut in summer stock at the Belfry Theatre in Williams Bay, Wis.

For five months in 1946, Vaughan tested the theatre waters in New York City, working on the productions of “Her Unborn Child” and “The Church House.” He also worked for CBS television during its pioneer days. During his stint in The Big Apple, he learned that another actor named “John Vaughan” was a member of Actors Equity so, after trying “Walker” for a few months, he adopted his current name.

Awarded an Artist-in-Residence fellowship from Stanford University, Vaughan resided in Palo Alto from February to August, 1947. He returned to ISTC as a speech and theatre instructor for the 1947-48 school year and appeared in several plays.

Before returning to IU to finish work on his Masters, Vaughan spent a year in England on Fulbright grant and served theatre stints in Erie, Pa., Rochester, N.Y. and Toledo. Upon returning to New York, he found that his services were desired as an actor and director.

He made his New York stage debut Sept. 29, 1953 in “The Strong Are Lonely.”

In 1956, fellow drama student Paul Shyre asked Vaughan to direct his adaption of Sean O’Casey’s autobiographical “I Knock at the Door.” Esteemed New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson saw the first performance of the staged reading at Kaufmann Auditorium in New York 1956 and lauded Vaughan’s “sensitive and imaginative direction.”

When the play reached the Belasco Theatre on Broadway on Sept. 29, 1957, Times critic Arthur Gelb wrote:

“Stuart Vaughan has directed the troupe with the ear of a musician, as well as with the sure knowledge of as theatre craftsman. All of the actors slip in and out of multiple roles with grace.”

“Pictures in the Hallway,” a sequel, also was highly acclaimed.

Vaughan’s 1957 alliance with New York Shakespeare Festival founder Joseph Papp was magical. Under Vaughan’s artistic direction, the festival won three Tony Awards and Stuart received the 1958 Obie (Off-Broadway) Award for Best Director and the Vernon Rice Drama Desk Award.

Vaughan was founding Artistic Director of the Seattle Repertory Theatre, Repertory Theatre New Orleans and New York’s Phoenix Theatre. Stuart and actress Anne Thompson, his wife since April 14, 1965, established the New Globe Theatre, Inc. to provide high quality theatre to college and small communities.

He wrote his autobiography, “A Possible Theatre: The Experience of a Pioneer Director in America’s Resident Theatre,” in 1969. He also wrote a text, “Directing Plays: A Working Professional’s Method,” (1992); a novel, “Captives, 1677;” and several plays, including “Assassination 1865,” (1971); “Ghost Dance” (1973); “The Royal Game” and many theatrical adaptions.

Vaughan directed over 200 plays, including 45 in New York City featuring such headliners as George C. Scott, Lillian Gish, Al Pacino, Martin Sheen, June Havoc and Hal Holbrook.

He has taught at Indiana University, Harvard, University of Georgia, Ohio State, Reed College, University of Alabama and Florida State. During Vaughan’s visit to Terre Haute in 2010, he conducted a roundtable for ISU theatre students arranged by Dr. Arthur Feinsod.

Naughright-Scarponi Funeral Home in High Bridge, Vaughan’s residence for 24 years, is in charge of arrangements.

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