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Barr, Richard (1917-1989)  
page: 1  2  

After his work with Welles, and a stint in the military, Barr produced a series of vanity productions for stars such as Ruth Draper and Ethel Waters. Disappointed with his initial forays into producing on Broadway, Barr left the Broadway theatrical firm of Bowden, Barr, and Bullock in 1959 to found Theater 1960 off-Broadway with H. B. Lutz and Harry Joe Brown, Jr.

In founding Theater 1960, Barr and his partners were intent of giving playwrights (rather than actors) priority in the productions. They wanted to get away from the trend toward star-driven shows.

Theater 1960's first production was two one-act plays, Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape and Edward Albee's first play, The Zoo Story, at the Provincetown Playhouse on January 14, 1960. The decision to premiere Albee's first play was Barr's most profound. The production inspired a generation of new writers, including playwrights Sam Shepard, John Guare, and Lanford Wilson. Guare later recounted that his telling of the plot of Zoo Story to his parents in Queens was so emotionally involved that his parents thought he had killed someone on a park bench in Central Park.

Barr's desire to further mainstream theater experimentalism, along the lines of abstract-expressionist and post-modern visual art, was realized in his production of most of the European and American absurdists of the mid and late twentieth century. These included Eugene Ionesco's The Killer (1960); Beckett's Nekros (1960), Embers (1960), Happy Days (1961), Endgame (1962), and Play (1964); Jack Richardson's Gallows Humor (1961); Harold Pinter's The Lover (1964); Jean Genet's Deathwatch (1962); and Fernando Arrabal's Picnic on the Battlefield (1962). Barr's promotion of the European Absurdists, along with the work of Edward Albee, helped give young playwrights and other theater artists hope that the American theater could rise above commercialism and strive toward the new and experimental.

In the fall of 1963, Barr, Wilder, and Albee decided to lease the Cherry Lane Theater, under a contract that lasted until June of 1967. Simultaneously, Barr and Wilder founded the Playwrights Unit at the Vandam Street [Village South] Theater. From 1963 to 1967, the Albarwild operation produced on, off, and off-off Broadway, and its work influenced many other important new play development programs, including the new plays projects at the Mark Taper Forum, the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, and, later, Playwrights Horizons, which was founded by Robert Moss, the final manager of the Albarwild Playwrights Unit.

Barr lived in Greenwich Village and was very much part of the Village culture of painters, musicians, and poets. He was known for the extravagant, star-studded parties at his home on Eighth Street, and was a great frequenter of theater cafes such as Caffe Cino and Cafe La Mama. He, therefore, had a great familiarity with the playwrights who produced their work there, many of whom, such as Lanford Wilson, Doric Wilson, and Robert Patrick, were also gay.

Barr was known for his generosity toward new writers, and strove to bring them from the obscurity of their off-off-Broadway lofts and church-based theaters into the American theatrical mainstream. There were few Broadway producers who actively sought out this new generation of writers, who were often considered too unprofessional and unruly for mainstream audiences.

Throughout his busy career as a producer, Barr struggled with alcohol. And after the early 1970s, his drinking contributed markedly to the dissipation of his career, as he became notably less productive. Despite his struggle, Barr continued to promote new work and new playwrights up to his death.

In 1961, Barr and Wilder received the Vernon Rice Award "for excellence in their productions and for devotion to new American playwrights and new ideas." Barr's productions won countless awards, including Tony Awards, the Pulitzer Prize, and Drama Desk Awards. He was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame by the American Theater Critics Association in 1994.

Richard Barr died on January 9,1989 of complications relating to AIDS.

David Crespy

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literature >> McNally, Terrence

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literature >> Patrick, Robert

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arts >> Sondheim, Stephen

One of the most innovative talents of the musical theater in the second half of the twentieth century, Stephen Sondheim has only indirectly reflected his homosexuality in his work.

arts >> Waters, Ethel

Perhaps best remembered for her award-winning performances as an actress, Ethel Waters was also a renowned Blues singer, known to have sexual relationships with other women.

arts >> Wilson, Doric

A pioneer in the development of contemporary gay theater, Doric Wilson was instrumental in Off-Off-Broadway theater in New York City from the early 1960s through the 1980s.

literature >> Wilson, Lanford

In his depictions of gay subjects, Lanford Wilson proved himself to be a powerful voice speaking of the lives of gay men.


Barr, Richard. "You Have to Hock Your House." Unpublished Ms. Richard Barr-Clinton Wilder Papers, Billy Rose Theater Collection, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

Hammel, Faye. "Three For the Play: Theater 64 Says the Writer Must be King." New York Times (March 3, 1966): 10.

Little, Stuart W. Off-Broadway: The Prophetic Theater. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1972.

Rothstein, Mervyn. "Richard Barr, 71, Stage Producer and Theater League Head, Dies." New York Times (January 10, 1989).

Zolotow, Sam. "Drama Desk Names Winners of Vernon Rice Awards." New York Times (May 9, 1961).


    Citation Information
    Author: Crespy, David  
    Entry Title: Barr, Richard  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2006  
    Date Last Updated January 20, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2006, glbtq, Inc.  


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