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Former Penn State Theatre Head Carole Brandt Dies at Age 77

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Carole Brandt

March 10, 2014

“The seven years I spent at Penn State were the culmination of a professional and artistic journey I had the privilege to make—this was the program I had dreamed of helping build …,” wrote Carole Brandt, head of Theatre at Penn State from 1988 to 1994, in her memoir, Braless in Retirement. Brandt died Tuesday, March 4, 2014, after a short illness.

A leader throughout her 50-year career, Brandt served the theatre profession in myriad roles, most recently as dean of Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts, a position from which she retired in 2006. The first woman ever appointed to an academic deanship at SMU, she often invoked Emile Zola, declaring “To be an artist is to live out loud.”

In addition to her posts at SMU and Penn State, Brandt served as director of the School of Drama at Illinois Wesleyan University and chair of the Department of Theatre at the University of Florida. While at Penn State, she was also executive producer and artistic director of Pennsylvania Centre Stage (predecessor to Penn State Centre Stage). In her memoir, she states, “… I was challenged to get the three-year-old professional company financially stabilized and artistically savvier. With sky-high stakes … I had fire in my belly and fists full of peas to throw!”

According to Jane Ridley, professor emerita of theatre, Brandt was a “powerful leader, fearless innovator and great party-giver.” Brandt recruited Ridley to Penn State in 1990. “She believed wholeheartedly in ‘the good of the order’ and ran each meeting with that thought as her north star,” notes Ridley. “She was my friend.”

In addition to her academic appointments, Brandt held many national leadership positions, including chair of the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, president of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education, dean of the College of Fellows of the American Theatre, president of the National Association of Schools of Theatre, and president of the National Theatre Conference. Throughout her career she directed approximately 200 professional and academic productions and was invited into membership by the Society of Directors and Choreographers. Among a number of award-winning productions, her Dancing at Lughnasa was performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

During Brandt’s term as dean at SMU, more than $100 million was raised for the Meadows School and Museum, and the school’s endowment was increased by another $100 million. In 2006, she was instrumental in the acquisition of a new $33 million Meadows Foundation grant, the largest in the history of SMU at the time. When she retired, the Meadows School Advisory Board and SMU designated the garden in front of the Owens Art Center, where Brandt had celebrated diploma ceremonies with students, the Brandt Garden.

In 2002, the Spanish government awarded Brandt the Ecomienda de la Orden de Isabel La Catolica, the highest distinction granted non-Spaniards who promote good relations between Spain and America, thus designating her Commander of the Order. That same year, the Dallas Historical Society presented her with the Award for Excellence in Creative Arts. Throughout her long career, Brandt was the only academic in the country to earn four Kennedy Center Medallions for Excellence and an Exxon Gold Medallion for Contribution to Theatre in Higher Education. She was also named Theatre Educator of the Year in Florida and Pennsylvania.

Brandt often said she “flunked” retirement, as evidenced by her continuing role as a consultant for college and university theatre programs across the country. She also served as chair of numerous accreditation teams and presented panels or speeches at conferences. In addition, she became a film and play script reader for projects in Los Angeles and New York City, and remained active on arts-related boards in Dallas.

Brandt requested that no services be held. Instead, she asked, in her self-written obituary, that family and friends “do something nice for someone else and fun for themselves.”