As If: An Autobiography traces the complex life and career of director, scholar, and theorist Herbert Blau, one of the most innovative voices in the American theater. From his earliest years on the streets of Brooklyn, with gang wars there, to the often embattled, now-legendary Actor's Workshop of San Francisco, the powerfully told story of Blau's first four decades is also a social history, moving from the Great Depression to the cold war, with fallout from "the balance of terror" on what he once described in an incendiary manifesto as The Impossible Theater.
Blau has always forged his own path, from his activist resistance to the McCarthy witch hunts to his emergence as a revolutionary director whose work included the controversial years at The Workshop, which introduced American audiences to major playwrights of the European avant-garde, including Brecht, Beckett, Genet, and Pinter. There is also an account here of that notorious production of Waiting for Godot at the maximum-security prison at San Quentin, which became the insignia of the Theater of the Absurd.
Blau went on from The Workshop to become codirector of the Repertory Theater of Lincoln Center, and then founding provost of California Institute of the Arts, where he developed and became artistic director of the experimental group KRAKEN. Currently Byron W. and Alice L. Lockwood Professor of the Humanities at the University of Washington, Blau has been visionary in the passage from theater to theory, and his many influential and award-winning books include The Dubious Spectacle: Extremities of Theater, 1976–2000; Sails of the Herring Fleet: Essays on Beckett; Nothing in Itself: Complexions of Fashion; To All Appearances: Ideology and Performance; The Audience; The Eye of Prey: Subversions of the Postmodern; and Take Up the Bodies: Theater at the Vanishing Point.
This richly evocative book includes never-before-published photographs of the author, his family and friends, collaborators in the theater, and theater productions.
"I read As If from cover to cover, engaged and powerfully moved by a familiar brilliance . . . Blau holds an utterly unique place in twentieth-century American theater, in American culture, and in theater theory and practice."
—Elin Diamond, Rutgers University
"Few theater practitioners have had comparable influence in American theater; few have endured such intoxicating highs and dispiriting lows; none, arguably, has reflected so deeply and sharply about so wide a spectrum of first-hand practical experience."
—Linda Gregerson, University of Michigan
"Masterful . . . a brilliant and touching book written with honesty and humility . . . In addition, it serves as an admirable introduction to Blau's theories, providing a context for his complex and sometimes difficult ideas."
—John Lutterbie, Stony Brook University
"From his childhood in the 'Jewish heart' of Brooklyn to his memorable production of Endgame in the 1960s, Herbert Blau's autobiography provides not only more of Blau's penetrating insights into dramatists like Beckett and into the complex cross-currents of the American experimental theatre of this turbulent period. It is also a rich, deeply felt and powerfully expressed chronicle of cultural change that goes far beyond specific theatrical productions to offer a valuable personal view of the years that did so much to shape the contemporary world, expressed by one of the theatre community's most original and articulate thinkers."
—Marvin Carlson, Sidney E. Cohn Professor of Theatre and Comparative Literature, The Graduate Center, The City University of New York
"Herb Blau's memoir—of his life, but also of an era—captures what has always been important about his work. 'Blooded thought', he taught us to call it—the embodied process of 'finding yourself divided, in the embrace of what's remembered'. His vivid account of childhood in a particular kind of American neighbourhood is complemented by reflection on his years in San Francisco when the theatre and the Cold War unfolded as mutual antagonists in his personal drama. Acute, insightful, and sometimes painful, it is also an intellectual page-turner."
—Janelle Reinelt, University of Warwick