The British reader may ask his relevance to theatre research over here. Brooks remade theatre history for us all. From his position as Professor in the NYU School of the Arts from 1968 to 1999 he did this in three ways: he was the first to explore the role of theatre architecture, from the 18th century onwards, in the study of mainstream American theatre; second he always asserted the "necessary ratifying function of an audience - the presence of a continual unspoken dialogue between performer and spectator" (Professor David Mayer's words in another tribute) and thirdly he threw open theatre research to embrace all sorts of popular entertainment from early film, public parades to the medicine show. Not only did he write scholarly and entertaining books on these but he had the knack of encouraging graduate students and others to pursue fresh lines of research. The great number of professional theatre historians who acknowledge Brooks's inspiration became known as 'McNamara's Band'.
Each person will suggest how he did this. In 1982, not long after we had met over The Georgian Playhouse exhibition at the Hayward, he enrolled me as visiting professor for the graduate summer school at NYU, while house sitting their grand apartment at Washington Village. Confronted with the prospect of teaching 72 hours over three weeks to 26 graduate students, not on the 18th century, not on theatre architecture but on The British Theatre 1956 to 1982 I asked for a steer. "Oh" said Brooks "you will think of something. It is why I asked you." - I did and hugely enjoyable it was.
Brooks thought his involvement was with English speaking theatre and entertainment in general and with New York in particular. His final book, The New York Concert Saloon: The Devil's own Nights was published by CUP in 2002. It opens with an illustration of Wilton's and invites comparisons throughout with the Music Hall in London - one of the great saloons in 19th century New York was the Canterbury. His first, The American Playhouse in the Eighteenth Century, published by Harvard in 1969, takes the world of James Winston as a starting point. When in Britain Brooks was a regular attender at STR lectures at the Art Workers' Guild. In 1997 he gave a paper, with the title The English Theatre in America at the first conference at the Georgian Theatre Richmond organised by David Wilmore for the Association of British Theatre Technicians.
The diversity of his interests are indicated by his second book, co authored with Richard Sheckner and Jerry Rojo of the Performance Group at NYU, Theatres, Spaces, Environments. This dealt uncompromisingly with avant garde performance spaces in New York at the end of the 60s and start of the 70s. It is hard to find but worth discovering. Secondly in the most legitimate area of theatre he was the founding director of the Shubert Archives. In 1976 he was handed the job by the Shubert Foundation of sorting out and catalogueing the mountain of material in the Shubert theatres in New York and elsewhere. The Archive opened over the Lyceum Theatre in 1986 and remains the best starting point for any research into theatre in New York.
Iain Mackintosh, January 2010
STR News Archive Index
Richmond Conference, 2009
David Wilmore's lecture, March 2010
STR Lecture Programme (at the Art Workers' Guild)
17th February 2010