Richards, Lloyd, 1919-2006

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Lloyd Richards (1919-2006), director, educator, and actor. Among Richards's many professional appointments, he was Dean of the Yale School of Drama and Artistic Director of the Yale Repertory Theatre (1979-1991) and Artistic Director of the annual National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center (1968-1999).

From the description of Lloyd Richards papers, 1944-2004. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 702181423

Lloyd George Richards was born on June 29, 1919 in Toronto, to Albert George and Rose Isabella Richards. The family immigrated to the United States after seeing a flyer sent out by Henry Ford that advertised employment in his plant and settled in Detroit in 1923. Albert Richards died of diphtheria in 1928, leaving Rose to raise Lloyd and his four siblings alone. A few years later, Mrs. Richards was struck blind and Lloyd went to work to help support his family. Despite the difficult circumstances, all of the Richards children received an education and were urged to continue on to college. Richards entered Wayne University in Detroit and originally studied pre-law but he quickly shifted his focus to theater and radio drama. After graduating, Richards began volunteer service in the U.S. Army Air Corps, training with the nation's first unit of black pilots, the Tuskegee Airmen. Richards was never in active duty and returned to Detroit in 1945. There he co-founded the These Twenty People Company and The Actor’s Company Repertory, and worked as a radio disc jockey for one year. He spent his nights and weekends working on productions and his days as a social worker.

In 1947, Richards moved to New York City to pursue an acting career. He waited tables and lived at the Y.M.C.A., focusing on auditions. At an audition for a one-man Equity Library Theater production, Richards met acting coach, actor, and director Paul Mann and studied with him until Mann asked him to become his teaching assistant for his actors’ workshops. While Richards was a good actor and acted in several popular on- and off-Broadway plays, he wasn't considered a strong character actor and eventually focused solely on his directing. Mann’s acting workshops would play an important role in Richards’s development as a director. Through Mann, Richards met dancer and writer Barbara Davenport; they married in October 1957, and had two sons. He also met actor Sidney Poitier, who urged Richards to read and direct one play in particular, Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun . Richards worked hard to rally support for the production, and in 1959 the play debuted on Broadway in New York City to a standing ovation. The plot concerns an African-American family's experiences in a Chicago neighborhood and was the first play written by an African-American woman to be produced on Broadway, as well as the first play with an African-American director on Broadway. It is considered a landmark in American theater and social history. Richards went on to have a successful and prolific career directing theater, radio, and television.

In addition to his acting and directing in New York through the 1950s and 1960s, Richards returned to Detroit to direct summer theater at the Northland Playhouse (1955-1958), worked on radio productions, and opened the Lloyd Richards Studio for Actor Training in New York. In 1966, Richards was hired as Master Teacher of Acting at the new actor training program at New York University (1966-1972). From 1972-1979, he held the position of Professor of Theater and Cinema at Hunter College. In 1979, Richards was recruited for the position of Dean of Yale School of Drama and Artistic Director of the Yale Repertory Theatre, which he held until 1991.

When Richards was asked to be Artistic Director of the annual National Playwrights Conference (NPC) in 1968 at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT, he took the opportunity to transform the conference into one of the most prestigious and intensive playwright opportunities in the world. NPC is where Richards met a young poet-turned-playwright, August Wilson. Wilson submitted work to the NPC several times and was rejected until he submitted Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom in 1982, which gained him admission. Richards went on to direct five of Wilson's premieres, often at the Yale Repertory Theatre, and all went on to Broadway ( Fences, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, The Piano Lesson, Two Trains Running, and Seven Guitars ). Their professional relationship changed when they stopped working on Wilson's plays together, but the two remained friends.

At NPC, Richards mentored many young playwrights who went on to have successful writing careers, including Lee Blessing and Christopher Durang. In 1999, Richards retired as Artistic Director from NPC. At Yale, Richards directed and oversaw the premiere of plays that went on to tour nationally. Among these were Lee Blessing’s Cobb, several of Athol Fugard’s plays, and all but one of August Wilson’s plays.

After retiring from Yale, Richards continued to teach in New York at the Actors Center and at the Actors Studio and occasionally directed. Throughout his teaching career, he was a visiting professor and lecturer at several universities and colleges. In honor of Richards’s retirement, Yale University School of Drama created their its permanently endowed chair, “The Lloyd Richards Professor of Theatre Chair,” and appointed him Professor Emeritus of the School of Drama. In addition to teaching, Richards gave his time and expertise to dozens of community theaters, professional committees, councils, boards, and fellowships. Richards received dozens of awards and honorary degrees throughout his career, including a Tony Award for Best Director for Fences in 1987 (he was nominated for a Tony several times) and a National Medal of Arts in 1993. He was admired as an influential director and educator, directing some of the twentieth century's most acclaimed actors.

While Richards worked and sometimes lived outside of New York City, he and Barbara considered the house on Manhattan's Upper West Side, where they lived since 1968, to be their home. Richards died in Manhattan on his 87th birthday of a heart attack.

From the guide to the Lloyd Richards papers, 1944-2004, (Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Philip Rose papers, 1944-2007 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
creatorOf Richards, Lloyd, 1919-2006. Lloyd Richards papers, 1944-2004. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
creatorOf Lloyd Richards papers, 1944-2004 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf The HistoryMakers Video Oral History with Lloyd Richards The HistoryMakers
Relation Name
associatedWith Eugene O'Neill Memorial Theater Center. corporateBody
associatedWith Fugard, Athol. person
associatedWith Fugard, Athol. person
associatedWith National Playwrights Conference. corporateBody
associatedWith Rose, Philip, 1921-2011 person
associatedWith Wilson, August. person
associatedWith Wilson, August. person
associatedWith Yale Repertory Theatre. corporateBody
associatedWith Yale School of Drama. corporateBody
associatedWith Yale University corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
New York (N.Y.)
Toronto (Ont.)‏
United States
Drama--20th century
Theater--United States
Acting teachers
Actors--United States
Acting teachers--UnitedStates
Theater--Production and direction
Dramatists, American
Theater--Production and direction--United States
Theater Director
Academic Administrator
Stage Actor


Birth 1919-06-29

Death 2006-06-29

Birth 19190629

Death 20060629





Ark ID: w6q538xm

SNAC ID: 28649787