Roy Brocksmith began his career on the bar at Hap Kuhl’s Tavern in his native Quincy, Illinois, at the age of three. As a boy soprano, he performed in churches, schools, and appeared regularly on local radio and television programs. At 16, he taught at the local children’s theater. Two years later he married his high-school girlfriend.
He left Quincy, touring the US for two years in the Oberammergau Passion Play of Richmond, Virginia. He returned and attended Hannibal LaGrange Junior College, Culver-Stockton College, and graduated from Quincy University in 1970. During this time, he directed for the community theater, Pragressive Playhouse, and founded the Great River Theater Workshop. As a director, he was taken to New York by a Ukrainian anesthesiologist in 1969, where he was joined by his wife and son, Blake (born 8/5/66).
For one year he was a librarian at the Lilliam Morgan Hetrick Medical Library at Flower Fifth Avenue Hospital in Manhattan and was on the board of the American Association of Midwives. This regular job ended when he received his AEA union card-playing opposite John Carradine in “The Stingiest Man in Town,” a musical based on Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” and narrated by then-Mayor John Lindsay at New York’s Town Hall.
On the legit stage, he made his Broadway debut–and the cover of the New York Times Magazine (11/9/75)–in “The Leaf People for Joseph Papp. He also appeared in Herr Tartüff with Mildred Dunnock in “Stages” with Jack Warden and sang “Mack the Knife” in Kurt Weill & Bertolt Brecht’s award-winning “Threepenny Opera” as the Ballad Singer in Papp’s Lincoln Center revival (Original cast album and “Broadway Magic of the Seventies” CDs, both on Columbia/CBS Records), and as the King of France in “The Three Musketeers.” Off-Broadway shows included “Polly,” “The Beggar’s Opera,” “Dr. Salavy’s Magic Theater,” and “In the Jungle of Cities” with Al Pacino. He starred in the Broadway-bound “Swing” at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. At the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota, he appeared in “Arms and the Man (as Petkoff), William Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” (as Touchstone), Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” (as Professor Willard), and Molière’s “Don Juan” (as Sganarelle). This last garnered him the Kudos Award from the Minneapolis critics and the production was brought to the Delacourt Theater in New York by Joseph Papp, and he received international praise. His work with Papp and directors Richard Foreman Liviu Cuilei, Stuart Ostrow, Tom O’Horgan, Andrei Serban, Alan Schneider, and John Cassavetes, to name just a few, made Brocksmith a solid part of America’s most innovative and provocative theater.
He was first to direct Foreman and Silverman’s “Africanis Instructus” for Lyn Austin’s Lennox Arts Center, and his adaptation of Feydeau’s “A Flea in Her Ear” was presented under his direction at Baltimore’s Center Stage. His unusual staging of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” gave the Alaska Repertory Theater a major box-office and critical hit and was chosen out of 100 entries to be presented at the Joyce Theater in New York that season. He also appeared as Thurio in the national tour of John Guare’s musical version of “Two Gentelmen of Verona,” and he made his California debut starring opposite Gena Rowlands.
In 1987 he formed the California Cottage Theater with partner Michael Liscio, joining a long and formidable list of American actor-managers. As Producing Director he presented only new works: “A Cold Day in Hell” by January Quackenbush, Brocksmith’s own “Box Prelude OPUS #1,” “Matinee” by Hal Corley, “The One Less Traveled” by Cary Pepper, “A Necessary End” by Joe Rubinoff, “Ripe Conditions” by Claudia Allen, and “Letters from Queens” by Brocksmith. The Cottage was unique because it was the only professional theater heater in the country under AEA jurisdiction for presentations in a private home. By its closing on February 17, 1996, over 8,000 people had attended performances. It was hailed as “Suburbia’s Rialto” (Wall Street Journal), “The epicenter of quirky folk” (L.A. Weekly), “Pick of the Week” (L.A.Times), and “Critic’s Choice” (Drama Logue). Calling himself a theater craftsman, it was Brocksmith’s belief that “good theater is not a matter of money and place as it is a matter of imagination, craft and guts.” The concept of the California Cottage Theater, a professional theater for free, was, to him, theater in its most essential form.
Brocksmith also appeared on several episodes of 3-2-1 Contact (1980) in its “Bloodhound Gang” segment and on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987). Sadly, he died of kidney failure on December 16, 2001.
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