Edward Hastings, Former Artistic Director of ACT, Dies at 80

Obituaries   Edward Hastings, Former Artistic Director of ACT, Dies at 80
Edward Hastings, one of the founders of the American Conservatory Theater, and its artistic director from 1986-1992, died yesterday at his Santa Fe home from natural causes. He was 80 years old.

Edward Hastings
Edward Hastings

Mr. Hastings was only the second head of the influential San Francisco theatre company, which won early praise for its vivacity and ensemble work in the 1960s and '70s. His tenure at the troupe stretched back to 1965, when ACT was founded in Pittsburgh, and he served for two decades under the company's storied, controversial founder, William Ball. (Soon after its creation, an invitation from a group of financiers in San Francisco brought the organization to the West Coast, where it stayed.) ACT's original San Francisco acting company included such future stage luminaries as Peter Donat, Richard Dysant and Michael Learned.

He became executive director in 1975, providing organizational and financial stability while Ball concentrated on the company's artistic path. He left as the company’s executive director a few years before Ball was forced to resign in 1986, amid accusations of financial mismanagement. Mr. Hastings was brought back and asked to step into his former boss' considerable shoes.

Mr. Hastings proved a stabilizing force. Among his greatest challenges was keeping the company open following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. The company temporarily lost its permanent home at the Geary Theater due to structural damage from the disaster. At the time, many thought the Geary would not open. While the theatre was being repaired, Mr. Hastings and then–production manager James Haire secured different venues around San Francisco to ensure the company’s production schedule could continue.

"Ed Hastings truly saved A.C.T. by picking up the mantle after the Bill Ball years and carrying forward with grace and determination," said ACT artistic director Carey Perloff, who succeeded Mr. Hastings. "Of the many things Ed did so beautifully as artistic director, one of the most important was his nurturing of young and emerging theater companies throughout the Bay Area: among them, Turtle Island Ensemble, Asian American Theater Company, Encore Theatre Company, and the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre."

Haire, who recently retired from ACT as producing director after 40 years with the company, described Mr. Hastings as "a passionate artist, an amazing administrator, and a true gentleman in the literal sense of the word. In the ’80s, he was able to completely reshape the company and put A.C.T. on solid financial footing without any upheaval, which was no small feat." Mr. Hastings founded the Plays in Progress program in 1972, which staged full public productions of new works in smaller venues. The program provided young playwrights with an invaluable opportunity, but also gave students in ACT's Advanced Training Program the experience of working alongside members of the acting company. Among the many plays he directed during his first tenure at ACT were early productions of Buried Child by Sam Shepard, A Delicate Balance by Edward Albee, The House of Blue Leaves by John Guare, Fifth of July by Lanford Wilson and The Holdup by Marsha Norman.

During his years as artistic director, Mr. Hastings cemented relationships with the playwrights August Wilson and Tom Stoppard, staging many of their plays at the Geary. He also mixed in commercially appealing musicals—something Ball had been disinclined to do. His debut production as artistic director was Sunday in the Park With George. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and The Gospel at Colonus followed. In his final year in charge, 1992, ACT celebrated its 25th anniversary with a gala featuring many artists from its past productions, including Rene Auberjonois, Annette Bening, Kathryn Crosby and Jeff McCarthy.

After leaving ACT, Mr. Hastings continued to work as a respected director of classics, new plays and operas around the country and internationally. He is survived by his longtime partner, Eugene Barcone.

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