It is with much sadness that the leadership, staff and artists of Kansas City Repertory Theatre reflect upon the death of its former artistic director George Keathley, who died September 12, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., at the age of 85. Keathley was artistic leader of the Rep (then called Missouri Repertory Theatre) from 1985 until his retirement in 2000, serving as the theatre’s second artistic director, immediately following the retirement of its founder.
Honoring Keathley’s request, there will be no funeral or memorial service.
“George had moved to Florida long before I moved to Kansas City, so I never had the privilege of meeting him,” said the Rep’s current artistic director Eric Rosen. “He is a legend in this community, paving the way for countless numbers of Kansas City’s outstanding actors, many of whom are still associated with the Rep. He also directed 49 plays here, many ranking among our theatre’s very best work. He will be sadly missed by his colleagues in Kansas City, and across the country.”
A member of Lee Strasberg’s Actors’ Studio, Keathley studied acting with Maria Ouspenskaya in Hollywood, and acting and directing with Strasburg and Erwin Piscator at the Dramatic Workshop of the New School for Social Research in New York. Keathley returned to his hometown, Miami, Fla., in 1950 and founded Studio M Playhouse, where he successfully produced and directed nearly 100 plays. His years there culminated in the world premiere of Sweet Bird of Youth by Tennessee Williams.
Keathley was highly regarded in the local, regional and national theatre communities. At Kansas City Rep, he directed 49 plays, and, in a 2000 article in The Kansas City Star, mentioned Three Tall Women, A Delicate Balance, The Deputy, M. Butterfly, Of Mice and Men, The Seagull and A Christmas Carol as being among his favorites. His New York directing career included the acclaimed Broadway productions The Square Root of Wonderful, starring Anne Baxter, and the 20th anniversary production of The Glass Menagerie, starring Maureen Stapleton and Piper Laurie, which gave a command performance at the White House. Later in his career, he returned to New York and directed the daytime dramas “The Doctors”, “Another World”, “All My Children”, and “One Life to Live”, for which he won an Emmy Award for best direction.
In the 1970s, Keathley worked extensively in Chicago, where he earned five Joseph Jefferson awards (Chicago’s equivalent of New York’s Tony) for directing. His productions there included stagings of The Night of the Iguana, with Barbara Rush and Ruth Roman, Long Day’s Journey into Night and Our Town at the Goodman Theatre, and The Rake’s Progress at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. He also directed at many theatres across the country including, Desire Under the Elms at the Guthrie Theater, Cause Celebre, starring Anne Baxter and Dorothy McGuire, at Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles; Wait Until Dark, with Betsy Palmer, at the Beverly Music Theatre; and The Heiress, starring Jane Alexander and Richard Kiley, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
ABOUT KANSAS CITY REPERTORY THEATRE
Now in its 46th year, Kansas City Repertory Theatre is one of the nation’s leading professional theatres and a member of the League of Resident Theatres. Its artistic leadership includes founder Patricia McIlrath (serving 1964-1985), George Keathley (serving 1985-2000), Peter Altman (serving 2000-2007) and current artistic director Eric Rosen, who joined the Rep in 2008. The Rep produces a full season of plays and events at Spencer Theatre on the UMKC campus, where the Rep is the professional theatre in residence, and at Copaken Stage downtown. Its diverse repertoire includes new works, musicals and classics of literature. The theatre serves approximately 100,000 patrons annually and employs more than 250 professional artists, technicians and administrators. This year, more than 8,500 students from 150 schools in the two-state region will attend special matinee performances, and more than 1,200 students will experience the Rep’s classroom programming and workshops.