Professor of Dramatic Art, emeritus
Alan A. Stambusky (1929 – 2011) became chair of what was then called Dramatic Art and Speech (now the Department of Theatre and Dance) in 1964. He retired in 1991.
Alan was central to the way Dramatic Art developed from his arrival at the University in 1961 well into retirement. One of his greatest contributions to the UC Davis campus came after his retirement in 1991—his leadership in a long-range effort to produce a videotape history of the campus through interviews with faculty and administrators. Working with Vern Mendel and others, he and a small team of volunteers produced more than 250 hours of videotapes recording accounts of UC Davis events going back to the 1950s. These form the central core of an ongoing project currently generated through the Emeriti Association and held in Special Collections at the Shields Library.
He was born in Niagara Falls, New York, on January 17, 1929, and attended Niagara University before earning an a master’s degree in theatre at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., in 1955, and then a PhD in the same subject at the University of Wisconsin in 1960. During this time he also served two years in the US Army, 1951–53. In 1955 he married (Rita) Mary Trojan in Chicago and they had three children, and in 1961 he came to Davis.
On the UC Davis campus Alan had a well-deserved reputation as someone who always spoke his mind. As one former member of the Academic Senate Committee on Committees put it, Alan was someone who constantly looked for common-sense solutions to complicated problems. He was always an independent thinker, he bowed to no one—and as a reward/punishment he ended up serving on numerous campus committees which came to treasure his views irrespective of coalitions and disciplinary prejudices.
Active in the early years of the American Educational Theatre Association, Alan was a champion of the value of teaching acting and of the study of plays—both as they were conceived in script form and in production. In the 1960s the model for theatre arts in the University was largely based on books, and Alan set the tone for the new wave of studies in theatre, dance and performance that now also includes practice as research for which the current Department of Theatre and Dance is nationally recognized. He was constantly learning, and supporting others in their learning, through detailed scholarship, through doing, and often through humor.
At UC Davis Alan directed many plays and musical comedies. A few of his favorites: Candide, Macbeth, The Plough and the Stars, Guys and Dolls, Richard III, Much Ado About Nothing, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Misalliance, Three Penny Opera, Cloud Nine, King Ubu, and Henry IV, Part I. As the span of these titles may indicate, it is not surprising that he also taught in the Medieval Studies Department and the Integrated Studies Program.
In the Davis, Sacramento, and California regions, Alan contributed in many capacities. He directed several operettas by Gilbert and Sullivan for the Davis Comic Opera Company. His acting credits include 15 hot summers in an even hotter tent for Music Circus in Sacramento and cooler seasons in the Globe theatre in San Diego. Radio and TV commercials also claimed his attention, as did numerous readings of poetry and prose for Davis audiences of 25 or 2000. For many years he served as a Lector at St. James Church in Davis, and is remembered for never speaking with a microphone and sending his voice booming out to the gathered congregation. He also contributed to the Memorial Union Scripture group, and was notorious for introducing abstruse discussions such as “Who Knows What God’s Thinking?”
Alan was an avid theatergoer. In one eight-month stay in England he saw 99 plays (London, Stratford, Dublin, Paris, and Amsterdam). His wife Mary estimated that altogether he saw more than 700 plays. He loved opera as well, and could be found at the San Francisco Opera on many Sunday afternoons. As one might expect from his outgoing, friendly manner, he blessed his many friends with his dry humor and love of language. Longtime friend Jerry Murphy said of Alan what Macbeth said of his old friend Yorick, “He was a fellow of infinite jest.”