Herb Katz, a neighborhood stage legend who was the first artistic director of the CenterStage at the Jewish Group Centre of Increased Rochester, died March 24 at the age of 82.
The bring about of his dying was cancer, despite the fact that he had also battled Parkinson’s disease and depression, in accordance to friends and spouse and children.
His dying touched off tribute soon after tribute on social media from actors, administrators, and educators of all ages, quite a few of whom had the similar matters to say about Katz: He was inimitable. Amusing. Amazing. 1-of-a-form. A power. An absolute fact-teller. An advocate for artists. A giver of alternatives. A pricey good friend.
To Ralph Meranto, the present JCC CenterStage artistic director, Katz was a mentor, collaborator, and, they frequently joked, somewhat of a father figure.
“I achieved Herb in 1987, when I played Seymour reverse his Mr. Mushnik in ‘Little Store of Horrors,’ and we had that duet ‘Mushnik and Son,’” Meranto mentioned. “We would constantly giggle about the point that I eventually ‘took above the spouse and children business’ as director of CenterStage.”
Katz burst onto the neighborhood theater scene in 1977, when a team of volunteers at the JCC launched a nationwide look for for an arts director-in-residence to make a system. They selected Katz, who was living in Philadelphia at the time and had an array of theater working experience that bundled acting, training, and directing. He had carried out in commercials, on “The Ed Sullivan Present,” and with the United States Army’s enjoyment particular products and services department.
In his 28 yr-tenure with JCC CenterStage, Katz directed productions and launched initiatives ranging from SummerStage — an audition-only, specialist musical working experience for substantial university and school students — to a Readers Theatre Team. He was also a pioneer in the region of non-common, colour-aware casting (then normally named “color-blind”) and held workshops on the subject matter.
Katz was involved with the Alliance for Jewish Theatre and was in a position to convey to Rochester huge names this sort of as Betty Comden (of Comden and Environmentally friendly, who wrote the screenplays and libretti for quite a few basic musicals).
Meranto took above the job of artistic director at JCC CenterStage in 2005. He described the handoff as seamless. There was no interview, given that, as Meranto set it, Katz had groomed him for the job.
Every thing clearly show Meranto did from 2005 until eventually around 2017, Meranto recollects, Katz was on the cell phone or in the viewers supporting. In point, Mernato mentioned, Katz is responsible for significantly of the results of the present theater scene in Rochester.
“He experimented with to search at the theater neighborhood as just that — a neighborhood — and not different, competing entities,” Meranto mentioned. “He carried out all over the place. He’d say it was a lot easier mainly because he did not have to concentrate on currently being a producer as properly. There were being no ticket revenue or light cues to fret about, his occupation was just to be an actor on the stage.”
Katz was born in Philadelphia on June 11, 1937, to his late mothers and fathers, his mother, Hanna, and his father, Joseph, an legal professional. He had a brother named Seymour, who survives him.
Katz graduated with a degree in instruction from the College of Pennsylvania just before earning a masters in good arts in directing from Boston College.
In Rochester, his work with other theaters led him to just one of the best friendships of his daily life in Jack Haldoupis, who was then the artistic director of Blackfriars Theatre (or, as Katz preferred to connect with it, “The Dwelling That Jack Built”). The two turned virtually inseparable, with Katz carrying out in Blackfriars productions and the two of them viewing theater all-around city collectively.
“We realized each and every other professionally for a handful of many years, but you really do not genuinely know somebody until eventually you work on a job with them,” Haldoupis mentioned. “We turned incredibly shut friends almost immediately. We were being just on the similar webpage. I could glance at him and raise an eyebrow and he’d know what I was wondering.”
Opinionated critic even though he was, Katz was frequently on stage or in the viewers at theaters all-around city each and every weekend.
“Every time a new theatre corporation popped up, he’d say, ‘If you can get an viewers, you ought to have to exist,’” Haldoupis mentioned.
Katz was also a huge proponent of neighborhood actors, and had a big community of actors and administrators who went on to specialist occupations soon after doing the job with him.
“He could feeling fact in acting, and if he preferred your work he’d one you out — even if he did not know you — and typically write you a observe. He had awful handwriting. Persons would get the notes and say, ‘What does this indicate?’” Haldoupis mentioned. “He’d be far too trustworthy and fight with people, far too, get true passionate and say he’d in no way work with them all over again. Of course, a thirty day period later, the particular person would be again in the theater.”
Katz was in his 50s when he achieved his wife, June, a university trainer and principal with a deep adore of theater. They were being married for 30 many years. “I really do not think there would have been a marriage if I did not like theater as significantly as he did,” she mentioned.
Collectively, the pair and a established of limited-knit, theater-loving friends that bundled Haldoupis attended demonstrates collectively in and out of city. June mentioned she and her spouse frequented New York Metropolis two times a yr to capture a string of new plays.
“We saw as quite a few plays as we could get into a 7 days,” she mentioned. “We’d go mornings, afternoons, and evenings.”
When Haldoupis retired from Blackfriars and present Artistic Director Danny Hoskins took above in 2015, Katz and June continued to assistance the theater and donated the big neon signal that adorns its Key Avenue constructing.
Katz was open up about his ongoing battle with depression, and developed the autobiographical, just one-man clearly show “Depression: The Musical” in 2002 with author Paula Marchese and composer-lyricist Patty Chadwick (Meranto played Katz). Katz also co-launched, with Ruth Cowing, The Reel Thoughts Film Series, which highlights mental overall health issues depicted in documentaries and animated movies.
When Katz’s eightieth birthday coincided with JCC CenterStage’s fortieth anniversary in 2017, Meranto threw a particular event with performers from previous and current, some of whom sent an in-particular person tribute to Katz and the legacy he brought to Rochester theater.
“He was a legend, a bigger-than-daily life presence in this neighborhood, commanding on a stage,” Meranto suggests. “When he walked into a space, you realized.”