MARSHALL W. MASON is an American theater director, educator, and writer born on this date. Mason founded the Circle Repertory Company in New York City and was artistic director of the company for 18 years. He received an Obie Award for Sustained Achievement in 1983. In 2016, he received the Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theater.
From 1983 to 1986, Mason was president of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, a national labor union.
Mason was born in Amarillo, Texas on February 24, 1940. He graduated from Northwestern University with a bachelor’s degree in theater in 1961. At the age of 19, while at Northwestern, he received his first award for directing a production of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
Upon graduating, he moved to Manhattan, where he began working in the off-off-Broadway theater movement in venues such as the Caffe Cino, La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, and the Judson Poets Theatre.
Mason directed multiple productions at La MaMa during the 1960s. The first was Balm in Gilead, which was also his first collaboration with playwright Lanford Wilson. He then directed Wilson’s The Sand Castle or There is a Tavern in the Town or Harry Can Dance and The Girl on the BBC, both at La MaMa in 1965. He directed a second production of The Sand Castle in 1967. That same year, Mason directed a production of Donald Julian’s A Coffee Ground Among the Tea Leaves at La MaMa. In 1969, he directed a production of Julian’s In Praise of Folly with set design by Wilson.
Since their early collaboration at La MaMa, Mason has directed over sixty productions of Lanford Wilson’s plays. Playbill has identified this as the longest collaboration between a playwright and director in the history of American theater. Among these productions are The Hot l Baltimore, for which Mason won his first Obie Award for Distinguished Direction in 1973; Fifth of July (1978); Talley’s Folly (1979); Angels Fall (1983); Burn This (1987); and Redwood Curtain (1992).
Mason is Professor Emeritus of Theater at Arizona State University, where he taught for ten years. In 2001, he was honored with ASU’s Creative Activity Award. He was the chief drama critic for the Phoenix New Times, a weekly newspaper, in 1994-1995, and received the 1995 Phoenix Press Club Award for his writing about the performing arts. He wrote Creating Life On Stage: A Director’s Approach to Working with Actors (2007) and The Transcendent Years: Circle Repertory Theater and the ’60s, published as a Kindle e-book in 2016. He is a member of the College of Fellows of the American Theatre at the Kennedy Center.
He lives in Mazatlán, Mexico and in Manhattan. In July 2011, the first Monday after New York State enacted its marriage equality law, Mason married his partner of 37 years, theater artist Daniel Irvine.