B. Iden Payne

Authored by: Franklin J. Hildy

The Routledge Companion to Directors’ Shakespeare

Print publication date:  April  2010
Online publication date:  June  2009

Print ISBN: 9780415400442
eBook ISBN: 9780203932520
Adobe ISBN: 9781134146482


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During a career that spanned the years 1899–1968, B. Iden Payne directed over 100 productions of Shakespeare’s plays, forty of them in Stratford-on-Avon alone. He staged at least thirty-two of the thirty-seven plays that make up the Shakespeare canon, most in multiple productions. It was often claimed for him, though he did not make such a claim himself, that he had directed more productions of Shakespeare’s plays than any other director (Gelber 1997: 2) – a claim that was possibly true during his lifetime but is not verifiable. He was, however, the first English director of the Abbey Theatre (home of the Irish national theatre) and the first Artistic Director of what has been called England’s model for a modern repertory theatre, the Gaiety Theatre, Manchester. On Broadway, he staged productions for the Shubert brothers, became a staff director for the Charles Frohman Company and was ‘loaned out’ to David Belasco and Florenz Ziegfeld before directing for the Theatre Guild. Back in England in the late 1930s, he served for eight years as the Artistic Director of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. Finally, at an age when most of his contemporaries had retired, he became one of the most sought-after regional theatre directors in the USA. Along the way, he became part of the important ‘little theatre movement’, managing theatres in both Chicago and Philadelphia. He was a leading figure in the development of Shakespeare festivals in America as his system of ‘modified Elizabethan staging’ was used by the Globe Theatre company that performed in reconstructed Globe playhouses across the country during the Great Depression was the inspiration for the formation of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and was used by Old Globe Theatre in San Diego as it began to establish itself as a major regional theatre. As the second Chairman of the first degree-granting Department of Drama in the USA (at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, now Carnegie-Mellon University) and the person who made the Department of Drama at the University of Texas at Austin one of the major programmes in the country, he was a pioneer of theatre in higher education.

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