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Nov. 12, 2013/For Immediate Release, high res. photo available
Media Contact: Lauren Whitaker, 336-734-2891, whitakerl@uncsa.edu



 He also was a founder and artistic director of N.C. Shakespeare Festival

WINSTON-SALEM – Malcolm Morrison, a former dean of the School of Drama at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA), died Friday 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.

Malcolm Morrison
Photo by Charles Buchanan

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. 



As America’s first state-supported arts school, the University of North Carolina School of the Arts is a unique stand-alone public university of arts conservatories. With a high school component, UNCSA is a degree-granting institution that trains young people of talent in music, dance, drama, filmmaking, and design and production. Established by the N.C. General Assembly in 1963, the School of the Arts opened in Winston-Salem (“The City of Arts and Innovation”) in 1965 and became part of the University of North Carolina system in 1972. For more information, visit www.uncsa.edu.