Former Guthrie head Michael Langham dies

Eight years after Tyrone Guthrie founded the company, the theater that bore his name was in the midst of a downward spiral. Langham was able to turn that around, bringing about a new era of creativity for the theater, starting from his very first efforts--productions of Cyrano de Bergerac and The Taming of the Shrew.

It was a vital moment. The board of directors were weighing their options between going ahead with the season or postponing it, which may have spelled serious trouble for the eight-year-old theater. Impressed by Langham's vision and passion, they went ahead, cementing the theater's status as an anchor for the local theater community.

Sheila Livingston was on the board at the time and has been involved with the theater since its opening. "He really brought a renewed vitality to the Guthrie and brought people back to the theater," she says. "The Guthrie had been without an artistic director for two years and he really revitalized it."

Langham's tenure was marked by a burst of artistic and commercial growth. During the 1970s the season grew, the touring company was developed, and a second space was added. His work as a director was highly lauded, especially his efforts on classics, from Love's Labour Lost to Oedipus, the King.

At the time, Livingston worked with youth outreach, so she was contacted by teachers who were concered about staging the Shakespeare play, as it was not part of their curriculum.

"I gathered up all my nerve and told him this. He looked at me in a stern, but kind way and said, 'Why don't you leave that to me,'" she says.

His instincts were right when it came to the classics and using the Guthrie's signature look. "He was a master of the thrust stage," Livingston says.

Langham's work in the theater is spread across North America and his native Britain. Along with his tenure at the Guthrie, he also served as the director of the Stratford Festival in Canada (where he also followed Tyrone Guthrie), the La Jolla Playhouse, and the Julliard School. As a director, he worked for the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre, and on Broadway, where he earned a Tony nomination for Timon of Athens in 1993.

"I saw him as a giant in the theater and regarded him with a mixture of fear and awe," Livingston says about the early days of knowing Langham. "I saw that he was very insightful and that he pushed the artists. He expected a lot from them and he expected a lot from himself."