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Israel Hicks: 1943-2010.

ISRAEL HICKS WAS an under-appreciated gem. He worked all the time. He directed all over the country at the same time that he headed conservatory programs, training future actors, directors and theatre artists of every stripe. His directing successes were by no means limited to African-American plays--the funniest Tartuffe I've ever seen was one he staged at the Arizona Theatre Company.


When Hicks started working on what would become August Wilson's Century Cycle at the Denver Center Theatre Company, I flew out to Colorado (not a short hike from my gig at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival) to see one of his productions (I was scoping out an actor). But then I kept flying back to Denver. I became fascinated with Hicks's directing--his storytelling ability, his measured approach, the fiercely passionate performances he evoked from his actors, and the palpable feeling of ensemble that he brought to every production.

What I later learned from the extended company of actors who worked for Hicks is that they loved and adored him. Behind his quiet, almost inscrutable exterior lurked a wry sense of humor. He admired actors and acting enormously. He gave his actors great respect at the same time that he offered them sometimes tough, blunt direction. No wonder they wanted to do their best for him--and often did.

When I arrived in Denver in 2005 to head DCTC, one of my first decisions was that Hicks should complete the August Wilson cycle. My predecessor, Donovan Marley, also a great friend and colleague of Hicks, had wisely promised all the Wilson plays to him. His remarkably moving and imaginative productions of Gem of the Ocean and Radio Golf made Hicks, to the best of my knowledge, the first director to complete the cycle at a single theatre. This was a great, good gift to theatre in general, but an even greater contribution to the audiences and artists of DCTC.

My history with Hicks had begun years earlier. In the mid-'80s, when my directing career was starting to take off, Hicks, then dean of theatre and film at SUNY-Purchase, hired me to direct the school's acting students in The Comedy of Errors. Tired of my own, conventional productions of Shakespeare, I decided to do something contemporary, shifting the setting to a gambling hotspot (think Las Vegas). Shortly before the play opened, I learned that the dean of the design program at Purchase was furious with me, believing I had desecrated Shakespeare and ruined the experience for his student designers. Rattled by this attack, I spoke about it to Hicks--who first laughed, then publicly confronted the head of design. I learned a valuable lesson watching him: Hicks would do anything to protect his students and the artists working with them. If a project succeeded artistically for him, he always found the passion and courage to fight for it.

I shall remember Hicks for precisely the qualities he showed on that occasion--a passion for the theatre, artistic courage and a wonderful sense of humor. We shall miss him deeply.

Kent Thompson is artistic director of Denver Center Theatre Company, a division of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

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Author:Thompson, Kent
Publication:American Theatre
Article Type:In memoriam
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2010
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