Farewell to Ernie Schier, former theatre critic for the now-defunct Philadelphia Bulletin and Director of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center in Waterford, CT. Schier, in his late seventies, died Jan. 11, 1999. According to sources, he'd broken his hip in a fall just after Christmas 1998 and was subsequently diagnosed with liver cancer.
Begun in 1968, the National Theatre Institute takes a month every summer at the O'Neill to offer intensive workshops and seminars in writing theatre criticism. According to Schier's bio in the most recent National Playwrights Conference Playbill, he had "been associated with the O'Neill Center for 32 years, largely as a utility infielder." Modesty aside, Schier was actually the driving force behind forming and running NCI, which was co-founded with Norman Nadel and Judith Crist. In recent years, Schier has shared co-directorship of NCI with former New York Times and Minneapolis Tribune critic, Dan Sullivan.
Schier was also a past chairman and co-founder of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), which meets twice annually to analyze and strengthen the role of theatre critics as journalists in America. He was also instrumental in starting a program with Washington DC's American College Theatre Festival, wherein students with winning critical essays were brought to NCI to partake in the monthly seminars alongside more seasoned reviewers.
Lawrence DeVine, recently retired critic of the Detroit Free Press and a faculty member at NCI since 1971, told Playbill On-Line, "I met Ernie in 1971 -- the fourth year of the Institute, when he was running it with Grover Sales. I was 35, and had been at the Detroit Free Press for three years already, as a young career critic. I simply thought NCI was such a good idea, and if anybody had influence on criticism for the last 30 years, it was Ernie. So many people went through that Institute, and now they're working all over the country. Plus you had faculty like Jay Novick, Michael Feingold, Edith Oliver -- all teaching up there... You just didn't write that slick `oh, I hated it' cutesy criticism. What you said had to be backed up with reason and narrative skill. A review ought to inform and justify your opinions on a piece of work."
Of Schier's legacy, DeVine said, "He was a very conscientious man. He loved theatre and he loved writing about the theatre with a very orderly, analytical mind to help share that affection and make it clear for people. He changed my life and my writing style. I think he did that with a great many writers."