William Stackman 1941-2007
"Prof. Will", as he's known around Beantown, did theatre, including puppetry, in these parts for a quarter century or more. His theatre adventures began back in his hometown of Madison CT in the early '50s, as part of the Nutmeg Players. That still viable community theatre traces its roots to the peripatetic Jitney Players who were headquartered there on the Connecticut shore in the early '30s. The Jitney’s co-founder, Alice Keating Cheney, who in her career performed with John and Ethel Barrymore, Hume Cronyn, and many other seminal stage and film actors, was an early teacher and mentor who exerted a profound influence on Will’s theatrical life.
Active in theatre at Mount Herman where he graduated in '58, Will became hyper-active at DePauw University (Greencastle, IN), where he managed a student experimental theater, directed an opera, played various minor roles, and still managed to graduate Phi Beta Kappa in 1962.
After studying Psychology at Yale for a year as an NIMH Fellow headed for a PhD, he switched to the Theatre program at Wesleyan (Middletown, CT), working as a grad assistant, and earning an M.A. for Theatre in Production in 1965. Hanging out for the rest of the 60's at Cornell, he spent four years studying and doing theatre and film, but never submitted his thesis -- a chronicle of the relationship between Broadway and Hollywood in the decades before and after talkies took over. While at Cornell he managed the studio theatre, created several experimental productions, house-managed film series, and acted now and then -- a favorite role was Lanthorn Leatherhead "Master of Motions", the fairground puppeteer in Ben Jonson's "Bart'l'mew Faire," directed by Gordon Beck, now Professor Emeritus from Evergreen State College. Will’s seminal production of 79 Cents was a precursor to the movement towards theater “happenings“ in the 1960s. Likewise, his scratch film “Head ‘Em Off at the Pass” showed audiences how the viewer creates meaning in art.
Leaving Ithaca, the Prof. taught at Cal. State/Long Beach during the year Reagan shut down state campuses to stifle dissent, then returned east to teach technical theatre for two years at Rutgers. When New Jersey rejected their first income tax and the University budgets were slashed, Will decided he'd been in school too long and came up to Boston to concentrate on puppetry, and became a Punch Professor.
He became part of the technical staff at the still-missed Orson Welles Complex, but it wasn't long before he was back to teaching at Pine Manor College in Brookline: building scenery, directing musicals, and lecturing on Theatre for Young Audiences. He also continued performing various versions of the traditional "Tragical Comedie and Comical Tragedie of Punch and Judy" as Boston's senior Punch Professor. He taught at Boston Conservatory, Wheelock College, and Newton North High, and directed the
Gateway Puppeteers in Brookline.
Throughout the 70s Will was technical director, dramaturge, and covert fourth member of Threeater, a Theater of Three. This traveling troupe from Maine, which performed throughout the eastern US and on the Fringe of the Edinburgh Festival, included Masha Stackman, his ex-wife, with whom he maintained a lifelong friendship. Threeater’s works allowed him to exercise another of his passions, compact set design. For their bicentennial Commedia dell’Arte, 1576!, Will folded an entire Italianate city into the trunk of a Peugeot station wagon.
In the '70s and '80s Will worked on the first decade of FIRST NIGHT, ran two editions of Summer START at Fort Point Channel, and then for the Cambridge Arts Council was Technical Director for the Cambridge River Festival, while supervising Arts Lottery projects and other community efforts.
When the United States Pitch of the Worldwide Friends of Punch and Judy formed, in 1997, Will was elected (a too-formal description of an exuberant and raucous process) its first “Mayhew,” or historian. At the 1999 Seattle gathering of the Puppeteers of America, he produced a 40-foot-long streamer of biographies of American Punch performers from the 19th century to the present.
He was a staunch supporter of all things theatrical, especially populist events. In 2001 he helped Marianne Donnelly, his companion of 20 years, found Butterflies Over Boston, an annual celebration of the Monarch migration.
Will was a founding board member and Technical Director for the first years of Boston's Playwrights' Platform, and active in the A.T.A., N.E.T.C., and the Puppeteers of America, Boston Area Guild, Ch#9 thereof. He was also on the advisory board of the late lamented Boston Computer Society, and could be found by old friends at the MIT Electronics Flea Market and BMUG meetings.
Will's reviews of Boston-area theatre can be found on AisleSay.com (a national compendium), Larry Stark's Theater Mirror (a local resource), and his own site ON THE AISLE. He was part of the Independent Reviewers of New England's (IRNE) Awards committee, and a tireless advocate for good work under Spartan conditions in obscure venues.
Memorial plans so far include: The Cambridge Arts Council at the Cambridge River Festival: Mini parade at 5:00 pm Saturday June 16th on the Festival site celebrating Will Stackman and Ritchie Goldstein, junk percussionist extraordinaire who was a part of many Boston area festivals, most notably Spontaneous Celebrations' Wake Up the Earth. Includes Puppeteers Cooperative, stilt walkers & drummers. Memory Wall: Bring your contribution -- a note, a sign, a photo, a puppet, to place on a Community Bulletin Board celebrating Will -- or carry it in the parade. Play Reading: Will wrote some 10-minute plays in recent years. If there is interest, we have a beautiful little park that could be used at 4:00pm if actor/director volunteers come forth to read them. Contact: Jane Beal, Cambridge Arts Council, 617-349-4381, jbeal@CambridgeMA.gov. Playwrights Platform at Boston Playwrights Theatre: A first annual Will Stackman Award for Excellence in Directing Award will be voted and presented at the Platform's Annual New Play Festival wrap party after the final 8pm shows Saturday June 16th. Puppet Showplace in July: There will be a Memorial at the Showplace in Brookline Village about a month, to be organized by Marianne Donnelly and Kris Higgins. Details TBA on the www.TheaterMirror.com web site
Comments and memories of Will are at several Internet sites. Among them:
The Boston Globe is preparing an obituary.