Dear MCC Family,
MCC founding Co-Artistic Director Bob LuPone passed away Saturday, August 27 after a three year battle with pancreatic cancer. He is survived by his wife, Virginia, his son Orlando, sister Patti, and brother William. He is also survived by the profound impact he had on us.
When Bernie Telsey and Bob LuPone met in the early 1980’s they struck a creative spark called Manhattan Class Company, and, joined by Will Cantler not long after, formed a unique artistic leadership trio that has burned ever since. While the company was ostensibly formed to create new work for the American stage, it was always Bob’s fierce need for engagement with the art, the artists, and the audience that animated and inspired us.
Whenever we considered a play Bob always made us ask ourselves if it had a “third act”? Would we walk out of the theater anxious to go to the bar or restaurant and spend the rest of the night hashing over what we had seen? That perspective has animated every decision we’ve ever made.
Some of our fondest memories are of the MCC Marathon Weekend retreats we did in the early days, where Bob would lead a group of actors, directors, and playwrights to a ramshackle retreat house on Long Island to read first drafts of new plays, eat, drink, and talk all weekend, as his mother Pat made food for us. For many of us, Bob created a sense of community that we had not yet found in New York, and we have treasured ever since.
Bob was fiercely opinionated about plays, and just as fiercely unedited in his note sessions. If Bernie and Will sometimes paused about how or when to give a note, Bob always trusted that charging straight in with passion and candor would win the day, and we came to learn just how often he was right. If we fought often and loudly in our early days, we could never let go of each other and what we were building. The unruly passion of those days ripened into a trust of talking and listening that we hope permeates the whole culture of MCC today.
After more than two decades of dreaming we opened the Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space in January of 2019 with a balloon drop from the Newman Mills Stage. Bob’s joy at finally having a home for MCC lifted us all right up to the grid where those balloons came from.
Bob was a force, an advocate, complex in the richest ways, overflowing with a youthful enthusiasm, and deeply wise as he looked in to our souls. He was our best friend. It is hard to believe that we will never sit down with him again and say “Let’s talk.”
Bob LuPone was born on July 29th, 1946 in Brooklyn, New York to Angela Louise (known as Pat), a housewife, and Orlando Joseph LuPone, a school principal.
Bob devoted his life to the arts, from his influential career as a dancer and actor on stage and screen, to his work as an arts educator and founding Co-Artistic Director of MCC Theater.
His passion for the arts began at an early age. In the sixth grade at his North Port, Long Island elementary school, he saw his younger sister Patti dance at a PTA Dance Concert in a colorful hula skirt. After he told his mother how badly he wanted to wear the skirt, she told him that if that’s what he wanted then he’d have to enroll in dance class, which he did the following year. He started by taking tap lessons after school before enrolling in the Martha Graham Studio, where he studied under Antony Tudor, José Limon and Graham herself, from ages 15 to 18.
While in high school, in addition to dancing and participating in the school’s drama program, he also excelled at oboe—ranking ninth best in New York State. “The problem of my whole life,” he once said, “was figuring out what I wanted to do.”
After graduating, he enrolled at Adelphi University where he stayed for two semesters. At the suggestion of a friend, he went to an audition for Juilliard. He got accepted—not telling anyone that he improvised his audition until after the fact. He transferred to Juilliard and graduated with a BFA in Dance in 1968.
His first professional job was in 1966, in the ensemble of the Westbury Music Fair’s production of The Pajama Game starring Liza Minnelli. He made his Broadway debut in the 1968 production of Noel Coward’s Sweet Potato, and subsequently appeared in Minnie’s Boys, The Rothschilds, and The Magic Show.
In 1975, he got a call from his agent saying Michael Bennett was looking to audition triple threats for a new musical. Bob was initially cast as Al in A Chorus Line, but after another actor departed the production, Bob went to Bennett and said “I can do that. I can play Zach”. Bennett auditioned him that day on a lunch break, and by the afternoon Bob was in rehearsal for the role that would lead to a Tony nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. A Chorus Line opened at the Public Theater, before swiftly transferring to Broadway. The production was nominated for 12 Tony Awards at the 1976 ceremony.
After over ten years of booking musicals as a dancer and performing through various dance injuries – one of which left him paralyzed for 11 days – he became a member of the Actors Studio to hone his skills as a legitimate actor. His goal was to be involved with “issue-oriented, substantial work.” Never truly connecting with the philosophy at the studio, he left after having a fight with a member who said, “Well if you don’t like it, go start your own theater.” Sure enough, that’s what he did. A few years later, Bob was teaching an acting class at New York University where one of his students was Bernie Telsey. Together they would form Manhattan Class Company—known today as MCC Theater.
MCC quickly evolved from conducting development work to producing evenings of One Acts and eventually full-length plays in various rented spaces in the city such as the Nat Horne Theater/Theatre Row, 28th Street Theatre, and the Lucille Lortel Theatre, where MCC was in residence for over a decade while preparing to realize a long-standing dream of building a home of its own.
Bob passionately led MCC as part of a unique artistic leadership trio along with Bernie Telsey and Will Cantler for nearly 40 years, shaping it from the ground up into the influential Off-Broadway non-profit theatre company it is today by nurturing students and artists and producing such works as Frozen, Hand to God, School Girls; or the African Mean Girls Play and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Wit.
In January 2019, MCC opened the Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space on 52nd Street and 10th Avenue, fulfilling the goal of bringing the full range of MCC’s community and programming – from the students in the MCC Youth Company to the artists developing, rehearsing and presenting new work to the audiences eager to engage in the unique dialogue sparked by a theatrical experience – under one roof. At the time Bob said, “I am filled with a sense of happiness about where MCC is, what it’s accomplished, and what it now has in terms of a home.”
While serving as a co-artistic director of MCC Theater, Bob continued acting, mostly on stage, but also on television. Some notable acting credits include Broadway productions of A View from the Bridge, True West, and A Thousand Clowns, and the Chicago premiere of Sam Shepard’s The Tooth of Crime for which he won a Joseph Jefferson Award. Select TV credits include “The Sopranos”, “Sex & the City”, “All My Children” (for which he received a Daytime Emmy nomination), and “Guiding Light”.
Bob returned to his role as an educator, supporting the artistic development of a new generation of actors when he began serving as the Director of the MFA Drama Program at the New School for Drama from 2005 through 2011. He also served as President of the Board of Directors of A.R.T / New York.
In a 2019 interview for the Primary Stages Off-Broadway Oral History Project, Bob spoke passionately about life in the theater: “There’s no better life. Despite the cost, there’s no better life than a life in theatre in New York City, with the community, with the ups and downs, with the fullness of life and creativity that you experience. Both positive and negative, with the joys and sorrows of inspiration. That’s the reason to do any of this. And it’s a great life…it’s a great life.”