Benjamin Mordecai III, distinguished producer, managing director and educator, died May 8 after a long fight with cancer. He was 60.
"An outstanding and accomplished professional, a generous teacher and colleague, Ben believed in artists and spent his life supporting them wherever he found them: in the classroom, in production, in mentoring, and in the field," according to a statement from Yale. "More than 1,400 students felt the benefit of his presence at Yale School of Drama since he began teaching here in 1982, and hundreds of other graduates have deepened their connection to Yale and to the theatre through Ben's energetic engagement with alumni affairs."
Yale University Theatre is at 222 York Street, New Haven.
Memorial contributions may be made to The Benjamin Mordecai Fund, Yale School of Drama, P.O. Box 208244, New Haven, CT, 06520-8244.
For general information or to RVSP to the tribute, call (203) 432-1516 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. *
Mordecai was a co-founder and producing director of Indiana Repertory Theatre for 11 years before he came to Yale. Since then, he variously served as managing director of the School and Yale Rep, as associate dean, and as professor (adjunct).
"All this he did while forging a career as one of the nation's leading commercial producers, most notably of the plays of August Wilson, whom he was first introduced to by Dean Lloyd Richards," according to Yale. "Ben was the only person to have worked on the original productions of all 10 plays in Wilson's epic cycle that stands as one of the monumental achievements of the American theatre."
As managing director of Yale Repertory Theatre, Mordecai transferred nine plays from Yale to Broadway including five plays by August Wilson: Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Fences, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, The Piano Lesson and Two Trains Running. As executive director of Sageworks, a partnership dedicated to supporting the works of August Wilson, he produced the Broadway productions of Seven Guitars and King Hedley II, as well as a revival of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. He also produced the acclaimed Off-Broadway production of August Wilson's Jitney, as well as at London's Royal National Theatre.
Under his leadership, the Yale productions of A Walk in the Woods, Blood Knot and the renowned Eugene O'Neill Centennial productions of Long Day's Journey Into Night and Ah, Wilderness! with Jason Robards and Colleen Dewhurst also advanced to Broadway.
In 1992, Mordecai founded the theatrical producing and management firm, Benjamin Mordecai Productions, Inc., and he was the Managing Partner of Producers Four, a theatrical development and producing company operating in the United States and Europe.
In the last three seasons, Mordecai produced on Broadway Brooklyn the Musical, the revival of Flower Drum Song and the new play Sixteen Wounded; and in 1998 David Henry Hwang's Golden Child. Off-Broadway, he produced Thunder Knocking on the Door and Endpapers. Mordecai also produced Anna Deveare Smith's Twilight: Los Angeles and was executive producer of Angels in America.
He received four Tony Awards – for Fences, Angels in America Parts I & II, and Outstanding Regional Theatre (Yale Repertory Theatre).
He was said to be deeply and personally committed to the teaching mission of the School of Drama. Yale deputy dean Victoria Nolan said Mordecai always began the first day of class the same way: "He'd say to the students, 'When you got your acceptance letter, you probably thought Yale made a mistake, right? Well, we didn’t make a mistake. We saw leadership qualities in you and now we're here to nurture those qualities and help bring them out.'"
Nolan continued, "He was a tremendous listener. He was patient. Ben understood human nature. He was a master at helping people foster the best in themselves."