Keith Fowler began his theater career as an actor—playing Cottage Cheese in a second grade dairy pageant.
A native San Franciscan, he was active in local theaters through the 1950s playing roles from Gerald Tetley in The Ox-Bow Incident to Owen Webster in Saroyan’s The Beautiful People. He took small parts in films (Pal Joey and The Deep Six) shooting in Bay Area locations. After his first professional role (Lorenzo in The Merchant of Venice) at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 1958, he received his B.A. magna cum laude from San Francisco State, where he directed his first production, Hamlet, in 1960.
In 1961, as a Fulbright Scholar at The Shakespeare Institute in England, Fowler staged the Midlands premiere of Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage after observing Brecht’s original production in (formerly East) Berlin. As a Woodrow Wilson Fellow and Shubert Scholar at Yale, 1961-64, he earned a Doctor of Fine Arts degree in Directing, and he later studied with Lee Strasberg in the director’s unit of the Actors Studio, New York. He has taught at Williams College, the University of Virginia, the College of William and Mary, and was Chief of Directing at the Yale School of Drama before joining the Irvine drama faculty.
Fowler was a leader in the American resident professional theater movement in the 1960s and 70s. He directed his first Equity season in 1963 at Casino-in-the-Park Playhouse in Holyoke, Massachusetts, including productions of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Archibald MacLeish’s JB. As producer and artistic director of two Equity (League of Resident Theater) companies—the Repertory Company of the Virginia Museum Theater (VMT Rep) and the American Revels Company in Richmond, Virginia—he staged a controversial and widely-praised production of Peter Weiss’ Marat/Sade and over forty major shows including U.S. and world premieres of plays by Maxim Gorky, A.R. Gurney, and Romulus Linney.
Gurney’s Children (1974) received its American premiere in Richmond under Fowler’s direction. His production of Our Father in 1976 was the English language premiere of Gorky’s Poslednje, translated by William Stancil. Presented first as part of the VMT Rep season, it was subsequently produced by Fowler in its New York debut at the Manhattan Theatre Club where it received high acclaim. Fowler produced several Romulus Linney works, including The Sorrows of Frederick, Holy Ghosts, and the playwright’s revision of Democracy. In 1977, he commissioned and directed the world premiere of Linney’s Childe Byron, the intimate fantasy of Ada Lovelace and her father, Lord Byron.
From the mid-1960s to the present, Fowler has produced and directed over a hundred productions and acted more than eighty roles. His twenty-five Shakespearean productions include three Hamlets and two Macbeths (one, starring E.G. Marshall, hailed by The New York Times as "the 'Fowler Macbeth' . . . forcefully immediate, a splendidly vigorous production"). In addition to directing in New York and England, his productions have been seen at the Yale Repertory Theater, Williamstown Theater Festival, Asolo Theater, El Paso Festival Theater, the Virginia and Texas Shakespeare Festivals, Theater Forty of Beverly Hills, the Victory Theater, and at numerous universities. He acted at many of these theaters and with other companies throughout the country including the Odyssey Theater Ensemble, the New York Ensemble Studio, Pittsburgh Public Theater, and South Coast Repertory. Among his favorite Shakespearean roles are Mark Antony (Oregon Shakespeare, 1960), Hamlet (VMT Rep, 1976), Macduff (Pittsburgh Public Theater, 1980), King Lear, and Prospero (UCI, 2003 and 2007).
Fowler has been honored with numerous “Best Direction” awards, including the “Phoebe” (1977) from Richmond Newspapers for the world premiere of Childe Byron, and several “Critics Choice” and “Best of the Year” designations, including those from the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register, and Drama-Logue for The Real Thing, by Tom Stoppard, and T Bone N Weasel, by Jon Klein. He received Drama-Logue’s “Outstanding Achievement in Directing” (1991) for Bloody Poetry, by Howard Brenton, and the Orange County Weekly “OCIE” (1997) for Woyzeck, by Georg Büchner.
His production of Woyzeck at UCI featured Fowler’s own translation and adaptation. Among his other acclaimed Irvine productions are Chekhov's Three Sisters (1986), Müller's Hamletmachine(1992), Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa (1998), Stoppard's The Real Thing (1991) and Arcadia (2000), Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance (2001), and McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan (2006).
From 1996-2004, Fowler served as founding director of ArtsBridge (now ArtsBridge America). This arts education and outreach organization which began at UC Irvine has since expanded to over fifteen campuses at major universities across the country. Supported by private, corporate, and government funding, ArtsBridge has provided millions of dollars in scholarship aid to university students who are selected as "ArtsBridge Scholars." The chosen scholars teach the arts of dance, drama, music, and visual arts to pupils in K-12 classrooms. In 2002, Fowler established the Claire Trevor Academy, an intensive summer program envisioned as the upper end of our outreach efforts, providing advanced instruction in the performing arts to top-ranked high school students throughout Orange County, designating nearly thirty of these young performers as “Trevor Artists.”
Fowler lives in Irvine with his wife, Janice. He has two sons, Jeremy and Matthew, and two grandchildren, Ash and Gretel.
Fowler as Gerald Tetley in THE OX-BOW INCIDENT, Marina Players (San Francisco), 1955
As Prospero, THE TEMPEST, 2007
As Lear, KING LEAR, 2003
Photographs from some of Keith Fowler’s Productions:
Scott Reardon and Max Smythe in THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN, 2005
Karen Jean Olds and Andrea Caban in INISHMAAN, 2005
Karen Jean Olds, Mark Bedard, and Andrea Caban in INISHMAAN, 2005
Jennifer Evans and Max Smythe in INISHMAAN, 2005
Lynda Myles, Irv Atkins, and K. Lype O’Dell, in Fowler’s U.S. premiere of Maxim Gorki’s OUR FATHER (Poslednje), Manhattan Theater Club, 1972
Finale of THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE, Irvine Barclay Theater, 2000
Jeff Renard, Justin Davidson, Minh Nguyen, and Ryan Paregien in WOYZECK, Claire Trevor Theater, 1996
Cynthia Beckert, Megan Byrne, Beth Malone., Courtney Peterson, and Julie Kiernan in DANCING AT LUGHNASA, 1998
MARAT/SADE at the Virginia Museum Theater, Richmond, 1969
Andrea Caban and Evans Jarnefeldt in LA CELESTINA, 2006
Nylda Mark in the title role of LA CELESTINA, 2006
Jeff Parker and Rachel Grate in LA CELESTINA, 2006
Evans Jarnefeldt as Vanya in UNCLE VANYA, 2008