(Nov. 12, 2013) Malcolm Morrison, a former dean of the School of Drama at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA), died Nov. 8 in Hartford, Conn., after a long battle with cancer. Morrison was also a founder and an artistic director of the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival. He was 73.
“Like all of us who studied here under Malcolm Morrison, I am deeply saddened,” said UNCSA’s Chief Advancement Officer Mark Hough, who graduated from the School of Drama in 1979. “He was a brilliant teacher, a wonderful director, and a valuable mentor for many alumni and faculty members.”
Morrison led the School of Drama from 1976 to 1987, and is credited with building a national and international reputation for the school, recently ranked among the world’s top theatre training programs by Backstage.com and The Hollywood Reporter.
“Malcolm Morrison was a visionary leader in theatre training, and his vision lives on at UNCSA,” Hough said.
Assistant Dean of Drama Robert Francesconi agrees. “He is the reason the School of Drama has found its voice,” he said.
Morrison hired Francesconi to teach in the School of Drama. “Many years ago, he saw something in me, brought me to the School, nurtured me, and then gave me a life,” Francesconi said. “He is the reason that I am what I am. Above all, he showed me the power of imagination, sprinkled with humor and love.”
Mollie Murray, who teaches movement in the School of Drama, said Morrison changed her life. “I don't know if I would ever have choreographed a show without Malcolm's encouragement,” she said. “He will always be a part of who I am as an artist and teacher. He was demanding yet kind. He lived with grace and humor. He was a joy to work with and just to be with,” she added.
British-born Morrison came to UNCSA from Rose Bruford College near London, where he received a degree in acting, and then taught. He left UNCSA to become director of the National Theatre Conservatory in Denver, and then chaired the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of Wisconsin. In 1996, he became director of the theatre division of the Hartt School at the University of Hartford in Hartford, Conn., and later was named Dean of the school. He retired from that post in 2008, and returned a year later as a professor of theatre.
He also directed productions throughout the country, and founded N.C. Shakespeare Festival in 1977. He became its artistic director in 1979. Mark Pirolo, faculty emeritus in UNCSA’s School of Design and Production, collaborated with Morrison at the Shakespeare Festival.
“Malcolm was a wonderful collaborator, a valued colleague and a very dear friend. I spent a large portion of my design career working with him both at the School of the Arts and around the country,” Pirolo said. “He knew how to make theatre happen and it was a pleasure and a privilege to join him on what was always a challenging and exciting journey. His passing leaves a huge hole in my life and the lives of countless others.”
In 2004, Morrison returned to direct the NCSF production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and told the Greensboro News & Record he was proud of the festival’s longevity.
“I’m thrilled the festival still exists. That it has survived the downturn in arts funding and the general economic climate is a tribute both to this company and the whole community,” he said in the article.
The festival announced in August it would suspend operations for the remainder of the fiscal year, citing extreme financial challenges. It hopes to resume operations in July, the beginning of fiscal year 2014-15.
Alumni, including Hough, said Morrison was a superb teacher. Terrence Mann (currently appearing on Broadway in Pippin and a Tony Award nominee for roles in Les Miserables and Beauty and the Beast) told the Hartford Courant that Morrison’s training was a combination of the traditional and the eclectic. “Malcolm took the `Englishisms' out of Shakespeare and made you come at it from your own sense of what that poetry meant to you. But along the way, you sure were taught how to handle verse, too,'' he said.
Dikki Ellis, former clown consultant to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and member of the Big Apple Circus, said Morrison expected a lot from his students. “He worked hard all the time and expected no less from you. He was an icon wrapped up in an enigma,” Ellis said.
“He gave me my first job after graduation, teaching in summer school. On his recommendation alone I was accepted to the Theater Dimitri School, a life-changing experience and the foundation of my career today,” Ellis added.
Morrison lived in West Hartford, Conn., with his wife of 42 years, actress and teacher Johanna Morrison. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.
Gifts to honor the memory of Malcolm Morrison may be made to the UNCSA Foundation, Inc., 1533 S. Main Street, Winston-Salem, NC 27127 or at www.uncsa.edu/donate. Please include “In memory of Malcolm Morrison” on the gift.
Malcolm James Morrison of West Hartford, darling husband of Johanna (Rogan) Morrison, much loved father of Niki (Morrison) Balestra and devoted grandfather of Jennifer Balestra went gently into that good night on Friday, November 8, 2013, after an heroic fight against the dying of the light. For 10 years he successfully won the battle against cancer with his usual grace, dignity, and brilliant spirit. Malcolm's incredible legacy will forever live on in the hearts of his family, dear friends, students, and colleagues throughout the world. Malcolm was born in Eastbourne, England, on May 1st, 1940 to Doris Catherine and James Humphrey Morrison. He is survived by his wife of 43 years, Johanna, of West Hartford; daughter Niki; granddaughter, Jennifer Balestra (or as Grandad called her "the divine"); son-in-law, James Balestra; identical twin brother, Ian Charles Morrison and wife Alison Morrison, of Hereford, England; and his sister Fiona (Morrison) Lane and her husband Rick Lane of Staffordshire, England; his nephew Robin Morrison and wife Caroline, and his niece, Sarah. He is also survived by his brother-in-law, Francis Christopher Rogan and wife Janice Rogan, and nieces Rachel and Francine Rogan of Raleigh, N.C., niece, Claire Rogan of Basingstoke England, and brother-in-law Michael James Rogan of Manchester, England, in addition to very special nieces, nephews and godchildren in the U.S. and England. Malcolm led the Hartt School during a time of remarkable growth and achievement. He was Dean of the Hartt School for 10 years, adding vibrant majors in dance, theatre and music theatre to its internationally known programs in music, and in doing so attracted great artists from all over the world to join the brilliant long time faculty members. His gift was to nurture and support faculty and students. Outside of Hartt, Malcolm gave direction and encouragement for hundreds of dazzling performances over the years, and directed many spectacular productions of his own including at: Cleveland Playhouse; The Alliance Theatre in Atlanta Georgia; the Alley Theatre in Houston Texas; The Denver Center Theatre Company; Dallas Theatre Center; Monomoy Theatre in Cape Cod, Mass.; and many other regional theatre companies. Malcolm was the founding Artistic Director of the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival serving for ten years and has directed at the Utah Shakespearean Festival and the Colorado Shakespeare Festival where he received the Critic's Circles "Best Director" Award for his production of Loves Labors Lost. Internationally, in September of 2012, Malcolm was honored as a Fellow of the Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance in England from where he graduated with honors in 1964. He has been honored in Paris, France with the Jacques d'honneur for his work in international theatre, and has di-rected and taught in Australia, Russia, China, Austria, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Sweden, Malta, Jamaica, and Singapore. The author of two books "Clear Speech" and "Classical Acting", Malcolm also edited "Voice and Speech in the Theatre". For 12 years he was Dean of the School of Drama at the North Carolina School of the Arts, and also served as Director of the National Theatre Conservatory in Denver, CO; and Head of Theatre and Dance at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. In May of 2013 he proudly accepted the "University Medal for Distinguished Service" from the University of Hartford. Malcolm's family would like to extend their deepest gratitude for the outpouring of love and support that they have received. It is a testament to the esteem in which Malcolm was held. Special thanks go to his medical team who gave him joy and living for the past ten years, and the caring staff at St. Francis Hospital, Hartford.
A celebration of Malcolm's life will be held on Sunday, February 16, 2014, at 5 p.m. at the Performing Arts Center of the University of Hartford. All friends are welcome. For directions and online condolences, please visit www.taylorandmodeen.com. "...Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest..."
* The Hartford Courant: Former Dean of Hartt Malcolm Morrison Dies
Special Thanks to the UNCSA Archives for providing the photos seen on this page.