Donald Schoenbaum, former managing director of Minneapolis’ renowned Guthrie Theater and a key figure in the rise of nonprofit professional theaters in the U.S., died in Sarasota, Fla., on Feb. 24. He was 86.
Born in New York, Schoenbaum studied theater at USC under William DeMille. After a stint as an actor in Hollywood, he took to directing and producing efforts, founding the touring Repertory Players company in Omaha, Neb., in 1958. Together with director Adrian Hall and others, Schoenbaum started Trinity Repertory Theater in Providence, R.I., where he served as managing director. Schoenbaum exited two years later, in 1965, when he received his second Ford Foundation grant, this one to study the internal workings of the Guthrie Theater.
By 1969 he was the Guthrie’s managing director, a post in which he remained for 21 years, during which he led the organization’s expansion into an operation with year-round offerings. Under Schoenbaum, the Guthrie received a special Tony Award for theatrical excellence at regional theaters in 1982.
In a statement, Guthrie director Joe Dowling said, “Don Schoenbaum was one of the true heroes of the Guthrie, managing it through good times and bad — but always conscious of the artistic and institutional priorities.”
Schoenbaum retired to Sarasota in 1986 but remained involved in theater there.
Survivors include his wife, Patricia Nygaard; three sons; a stepson; and four grandchildren.