Rochester’s theater community remembers Herb Katz | Theater

Herb Katz, a local stage legend who was the very first creative director of the CenterStage at the Jewish Community Heart of Larger Rochester, died March 24 at the age of eighty two.

The trigger of his dying was cancer, even though he experienced also battled Parkinson’s ailment and despair, in accordance to friends and spouse and children.

His dying touched off tribute right after tribute on social media from actors, administrators, and educators of all ages, several of whom experienced the very same things to say about Katz: He was inimitable. Funny. Good. A single-of-a-sort. A drive. An absolute truth of the matter-teller. An advocate for artists. A giver of opportunities. A dear close friend.

To Ralph Meranto, the current JCC CenterStage creative director, Katz was a mentor, collaborator, and, they typically joked, fairly of a father figure.

“I achieved Herb in 1987, when I played Seymour opposite his Mr. Mushnik in ‘Little Store of Horrors,’ and we experienced that duet ‘Mushnik and Son,’” Meranto stated. “We would usually snicker about the truth that I eventually ‘took more than the spouse and children business’ as director of CenterStage.”

Katz burst onto the local theater scene in 1977, when a group of volunteers at the JCC released a nationwide search for an arts director-in-home to establish a method. They chosen Katz, who was dwelling in Philadelphia at the time and experienced an array of theater experience that integrated performing, instructing, and directing. He experienced performed in commercials, on “The Ed Sullivan Demonstrate,” and with the United States Army’s amusement unique products and services branch.

In his 28 year-tenure with JCC CenterStage, Katz directed productions and released initiatives ranging from SummerStage — an audition-only, expert musical experience for substantial university and higher education students — to a Audience Theatre Group. He was also a pioneer in the spot of non-regular, colour-conscious casting (then typically termed “color-blind”) and held workshops on the topic.

Katz was included with the Alliance for Jewish Theatre and was ready to bring to Rochester massive names this kind of as Betty Comden (of Comden and Environmentally friendly, who wrote the screenplays and libretti for several traditional musicals).

Meranto took more than the role of creative director at JCC CenterStage in 2005. He described the handoff as seamless. There was no interview, given that, as Meranto set it, Katz experienced groomed him for the role.

All the things present Meranto did from 2005 until eventually around 2017, Meranto remembers, Katz was on the phone or in the viewers supporting. In truth, Mernato stated, Katz is responsible for considerably of the results of the current theater scene in Rochester.

“He tried to appear at the theater neighborhood as just that — a neighborhood — and not different, competing entities,” Meranto stated. “He performed all over the place. He’d say it was simpler due to the fact he didn’t have to target on staying a producer as very well. There were no ticket profits or gentle cues to stress about, his work was just to be an actor on the stage.”

Katz was born in Philadelphia on June eleven, 1937, to his late parents, his mom, Hanna, and his father, Joseph, an lawyer. He experienced a brother named Seymour, who survives him.

Katz graduated with a degree in instruction from the College of Pennsylvania before earning a masters in fantastic arts in directing from Boston College.

In Rochester, his get the job done with other theaters led him to one of the biggest friendships of his lifestyle in Jack Haldoupis, who was then the creative director of Blackfriars Theatre (or, as Katz appreciated to get in touch with it, “The Household That Jack Built”). The two grew to become virtually inseparable, with Katz executing in Blackfriars productions and the two of them looking at theater close to town collectively.

“We knew just about every other skillfully for a number of years, but you don’t really know any person until eventually you get the job done on a venture with them,” Haldoupis stated. “We grew to become really near friends nearly quickly. We were just on the very same web site. I could glance at him and increase an eyebrow and he’d know what I was pondering.”

Opinionated critic however he was, Katz was typically on stage or in the viewers at theaters close to town every single weekend.

“Every time a new theatre business popped up, he’d say, ‘If you can get an viewers, you have earned to exist,’” Haldoupis stated.

Katz was also a massive proponent of local actors, and experienced a substantial network of actors and administrators who went on to expert professions right after doing work with him.

“He could sense truth of the matter in performing, and if he appreciated your get the job done he’d solitary you out — even if he didn’t know you — and typically generate you a observe. He experienced horrible handwriting. Men and women would get the notes and say, ‘What does this signify?’” Haldoupis stated. “He’d be much too trustworthy and combat with people today, much too, get true passionate and say he’d by no means get the job done with them yet again. Of course, a thirty day period later on, the individual would be back in the theater.”

Katz was in his 50s when he achieved his wife, June, a university trainer and principal with a deep appreciate of theater. They were married for 30 years. “I don’t feel there would have been a relationship if I didn’t like theater as considerably as he did,” she stated.

Jointly, the pair and a set of restricted-knit, theater-loving friends that integrated Haldoupis attended shows collectively in and out of town. June stated she and her husband frequented New York Metropolis 2 times a year to catch a string of new performs.

“We saw as several performs as we could get into a week,” she stated. “We’d go mornings, afternoons, and evenings.”

When Haldoupis retired from Blackfriars and current Inventive Director Danny Hoskins took more than in 2015, Katz and June ongoing to guidance the theater and donated the substantial neon indicator that adorns its Key Road constructing.

Katz was open about his ongoing battle with despair, and produced the autobiographical, one-gentleman present “Depression: The Musical” in 2002 with author Paula Marchese and composer-lyricist Patty Chadwick (Meranto played Katz). Katz also co-launched, with Ruth Cowing, The Reel Mind Movie Sequence, which highlights mental health problems depicted in documentaries and animated movies.

When Katz’s 80th birthday coincided with JCC CenterStage’s fortieth anniversary in 2017, Meranto threw a unique occasion with performers from earlier and current, some of whom shipped an in-individual tribute to Katz and the legacy he introduced to Rochester theater.

“He was a legend, a greater-than-lifestyle presence in this neighborhood, commanding on a stage,” Meranto states. “When he walked into a area, you knew.”

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