Alan Brody, the noted playwright who has been professor of theater at MIT since 1988, has been named associate provost for the arts.
He succeeds Ellen T. Harris, the first person to hold the post at MIT. Professor Harris stepped down last June after six years as associate provost for the arts to pursue a long-planned book about the music of George Frideric Handel.
The announcement was made by Provost Joel Moses on Friday, Oct. 20, at the 23rd annual meeting of the Council for the Arts at MIT.
In accepting the position, Dr. Brody pledged to continue to oversee and strengthen MIT's arts programs while calling for members of the academy to provide the arts with a safe haven as public support diminishes.
"It seems to me that with the erosion of government support for the arts, all of us in the academic world have a new and urgent responsibility to keep the newest, the finest, the most controversial of the arts alive and their freedom of discourse protected," Dr. Brody said. "We must develop new generations of audiences and patrons who understand that the arts are a necessary source of consciousness-sometimes of conscience-and not something merely decorative or narcissistic.
"Vibrant arts are necessary for a vibrant community," Dr. Brody continued. "They are also a place where we can develop, in students, a sense of respect and a sense of wonder at being alive."
Dr. Brody, Class of 1960 Fellow for 1993-95, has been chair of the Music and Theater Arts Section in the School of Humanities and Social Science since 1990. He is on sabbatical until January and is currently a visiting fellow at Balliol College at Oxford University. He will begin serving as associate provost when he returns from England in January.
"Alan Brody has in abundance the qualities needed to direct and extend MIT's commitment to the arts in the years ahead," Professor Moses said. "His long and varied experience in the theater-as playwright, director and actor-and his years as a teacher have given him broad insights into the importance of the arts to society in general and to this unique community in particular. I salute the advisory committee, which was headed by Dean Philip Khoury [School of Humanities and Social Science], for an excellent job in interviewing the numerous candidates for this important post."
The associate provost for the arts is the senior administration official responsible for the oversight of creative arts activities throughout the Institute. A member of the Academic Council, the associate provost for the arts advises the provost and the president on all non-academic activities related to the arts and is the senior officer responsible for resource development in the arts. The associate provost for the arts also chairs the Creative Arts Council, which consists of the dean of the School of Humanities and Social Science, the dean of the School of Architecture and Planning, and department heads and leaders of programs in the arts.
Professor Brody, in acknowledging his appointment, said, "One of the main reasons I agreed to become a candidate is that I so admire the work that Ellen [Harris] has done in making the arts a living and vibrant presence in the life and culture of the Institute. It will be exciting to perpetuate and build on her accomplishments. In the years that I've been on the Creative Arts Council, I've become aware of how rich in human artistic resources MIT is, both in the arts faculty and in terms of my colleagues in engineering, science, architecture and planning, management and the humanities and social science, who also have a rich understanding and love of the arts."
As a playwright, Dr. Brody has won numerous awards, most recently Best New American Play of 1995 by Live Oaks Theater, Austin, Texas for The Housewives of Manheim. He has had productions and staged readings at such theaters as the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Missouri Repertory Theater, the Aspen Playwrights Conference, Playwrights Horizon, and Ensemble Studio Theater. His play, Invention for Father and Sons, was the first winner of the annual Rosenthal Award at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. The Company of Angels was the recipient of the 1990 Eisner Award from the Streisand Center for Jewish Culture in Los Angeles. It had its world premiere at the New Repertory Theater in Newton in the spring of 1993. Reckoning Time: A Song of Walt Whitman, a dramatic oratorio he wrote in collaboration with MIT Professor Peter Child, received its world premiere with the John Oliver Chorale in March 1995.
Among his credits as a director are Vinie Burrows' internationally acclaimed one-woman show, Sister! Sister! and the world premieres of two operas, T.J. Anderson's Soldier Boy, Soldier and Ken Guilmartin's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and many MIT student productions.
Dr. Brody, who holds undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees from Columbia University, studied acting with Uta Hagen and at the Hedgerow Theater School. He was one of the early members of the San Francisco Actors Workshop, where he performed with Burgess Meredith, Viveca Lindfors, Michael O'Sullivan, and Lee Breuer in such plays as Touch of the Poet, The Infernal Machine and the Herbert Blau production of King Lear. Professor Brody also appeared with Vivien Leigh and Mary Ure in the national company of Duel of Angels. Last summer Professor Brody was narrator for Copland's Lincoln Portrait, performed by the Boston Pops Orchestra.
Dr. Brody's fields of interest also include psychophysical studies in performance; Elizabethan, Jacobean and folk drama; American theater history, and performance theory in film and theater.
Professor Brody, who is currently working on a new play, will continue with MIT student theatrical ventures. "I'll continue to direct Playwrights in Performance to support the young playwrights in the MIT community," he said.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 25, 1995.