Alan Schneider Papers, 1929-1980


Born in Kharkov, Russia on December 12, 1917, young Alan Schneider often attended plays at the Moscow Children's Theatre. He emigrated to the United States with his physician parents in 1923 and became a citizen five years later.

At Forest Park High School in Baltimore, Maryland Schneider was a reporter for the school newspaper, a prize-winning public speaker, an interscholastic debater, and student government official. He ranked first in his class and received numerous awards for outstanding scholarship, athletic achievements (track), and generally distinguished school service. Schneider played his first leading role as an actor in the senior class play, Seven Keys to Baldpate by George M. Cohan. He was active in the dramatics club and attended professional play performances whenever possible.

Upon graduation from Forest Park in 1935, Schneider received a scholarship and entered the honors program at Johns Hopkins University. The following summer he attended the University of Maryland and entered the University of Wisconsin in the fall of 1936.

At Wisconsin, where he majored in political science and minored in comparative literature, Schneider broadened the extracurricular interests begun in high school. Serving the campus community, he was a reporter as well as dramatic and literary critic for the Cardinal until his graduation in 1939. In addition, Schneider obtained further newspaper experience through reporting for the Wisconsin State Journal and the Madison Capital Times (1936-1937), and by being news correspondent for the Marshfield (Wisconsin) News-Herald in 1937. Expressing his ideas effectively through either the written or spoken word, Schneider continued to win awards and honors for participation in forensics and debate contests, as well as for his writing. That Schneider wrote prolifically throughout the formative years of his life is evidenced by his many other journalistic endeavors which involved experimentation in various literary forms including essay, short story, drama, and poetry. During his years in Madison, Schneider also laid further groundwork for his future theatrical pursuits. He wrote, directed, and acted in student plays which were produced on WHA, the University radio station, or by the Wisconsin Players.

After graduating magna cum laude from Wisconsin and being elected to Phi Beta Kappa, Schneider worked as a radio script writer and announcer in Baltimore. Shortly thereafter, he became actor and publicity director for the Washington Civic Theatre in Washington, D.C., where Day Tuttle convinced him to continue his education in theater. In order to qualify as a director and teacher of speech and drama, Schneider entered Cornell University and subsequently was granted an M.A. degree in 1941.

Schneider's diversity of interests became increasingly apparent during the war years and later 1940s. In 1941, on the threshold of the United States' entry into World War II, Schneider began his professional career by accepting a teaching position with The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. as director and instructor of speech and drama. It was here that he directed his first “salaried” production, a world premiere of William Saroyan's play, Jim Dandy. Schneider remained as an instructor at Catholic University until 1947; in 1949 he was appointed assistant professor and continued to serve in that capacity until 1952.

Although unable to acquire draft status, Schneider played an active war role as an employee of various agencies of the federal government. Throughout the war, Schneider worked alternately for the Office of War Information, the Treasury Department, the Department of the Interior, and the Office of Public Health. He worked in varying capacities as a writer, editor and distributor of scripts, speeches and government publications. Schneider also acted in films for the United States Navy and in 1943-1944 he worked as an actor and assistant stage manager for the Playwrights' Company production of Storm Operation by Maxwell Anderson.

After the war Schneider's career gained momentum. Gradually he established a pattern of flexibility which enabled him to move freely between amateur and professional, regional and commercial theater: this became a dominant characteristic of his work. In 1947 Schneider began working for Theatre Inc. in New York and at the invitation of Norris Houghton became casting director between 1948-1949. Through Theatre Inc. Schneider organized an acting workshop called Studio 63, which provided a much needed showcase opportunity for actors and directors desiring to have their work seen by Broadway agents and producers. This early directing experience led Schneider to his first New York production in 1948, A Long Way from Home, a Negro adaptation of Gorky's The Lower Depths. Schneider received additional professional training by studying under Lee Strasberg at the American Theatre Wing in 1948 and later at Actors Studio.

When Theatre Inc. ceased to exist in 1949, Schneider became guest director and lecturer at Dartington Hall in England for six months. Receiving a Rockefeller Foundation Grant through the National Theatre Conference, he was able to spend part of this time studying European theater. In 1951, shortly after the opening of Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., an imaginative theater-in-the-round, as well as professional resident theater, Schneider became production director. His experiences there helped him grow further in his craft and led him to his first Broadway production, The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker, by Liam O'Brien, which he directed in 1953.

In the 1960s and 1970s Schneider continued his active career as a director of Broadway, off-Broadway, regional, and university theatrical productions. Among his more recent works were Blood Red Roses, The Cherry Orchard, Enemies, The Foursome, The Gingham Dog, I Never Sang for My Father, Inquest, Jabberwock, Moonchildren, Mother Courage and Her Children, Our Town, Saved, The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window, La Strada, Texas Trilogy, Tom, and Zalmen or The Madness of God. Although his energies focused primarily on the theater, Schneider also was involved in miscellaneous motion picture and television efforts such as the PBS production of Zalmen or The Madness of God.

Throughout his career, Schneider has frequently and notably directed the works of certain playwrights: Thornton Wilder, Tennessee Williams, Robert Anderson, Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, and Edward Albee. In addition, Schneider directed in radio, television, and film media as well as the theater.

Schneider received many distinguished awards in the theater. The most important were: a Guggenheim Grant for the study of the open stage (1956), and a Ford Foundation Director's Grant for work in regional theater (1958); the Antoinette Perry (Tony) Award for his direction of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; the Washington Trade Award for “outstanding contribution to professional community theater in the nation's capitol as production director of Arena Stage, Inc.”; the Village Voice Off-Broadway (Obie) Award for direction of Pinter's The Dumbwaiter and The Collection; and a citation from the South Eastern Theatre Conference (1964) for “outstanding achievement to a distinguished director.”

He served as a member of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Board of Standards and Planning for the Living Theatre (ANTA), Theatre Communications Group, Institute for Advanced Studies in Theatre Arts (IASTA), Society for Stage Directors and Choreographers (SSDC). In addition, he was an advisor and consultant to the Fulbright Scholarship Selection Committee, and the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, assisting their respective staffs in evaluating in evaluating the activities of groups and individuals under consideration for financial assistance. Similarly, he has served as a member of the Theatre Advisory Panel of the National Endowment for the Arts. During an extensive planning phase of the Ithaca Festival Theatre, a project initially conceived as a national center for all the performing arts, Schneider was Artistic Director. In addition he served as Associate Director of Arena Stage; Associate Director and Director of the Drama Division of the Juilliard School Director of the Juilliard Theatre Center; and Artistic Director of The Acting Company.

As a writer, Schneider contributed to Ten Talents in the American Theatre and Future American Theatre, in addition to having articles published in the New York Times, Theatre Arts Magazine, Saturday Review, and others; he was also drama critic for the New Leader (1962-1963). Never losing touch with academic life, Schneider often combined teaching with his directing activities. He lectured at various institutions including: Cornell University, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Texas, Columbia University, Boston University, Smith College, Hunter College, and the University of Minnesota.