Attilio Favorini

  • Emeritus Professor

Attilio “Buck” Favorini joined the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh in 1969, immediately after graduating as the Richard Lanpher Fellow from Yale with a Ph.D. in History of the Theatre, having taken classes both in the Drama School and the Graduate School. In his third year at the University of Pittsburgh Dr. Favorini was named Head of the Theatre Arts Division, which he guided to independence as the Department of Theatre Arts in 1982. He was to serve a total of twenty-seven years as Head and Chair of Theatre Arts and many years as Director of Graduate Studies. He has served on numerous University Committees and founded the Sustainability Subcommittee of the University Senate. He was Academic Dean of Semester-at-Sea for the Fall 1986 voyage. Beyond the University he has served on the boards of the American Society for Theatre Research, the National Association of Schools of Theatre and the Association for Theatre in Higher Education.

Throughout his career, he has moved productively and enthusiastically between the halls of academe and the stages of professional theatre. Over the course of his career, he has received fellowship support from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and project support from the Public Committee for the Humanities in Pennsylvania. In 1979 he was cited for Distinguished Service to the Profession for his ten-year editorship of the journal of the American Society for Theatre Research, and ten years later named Pittsburgher of the Year in the Arts by Pittsburgh Magazine. The Three Rivers Shakespeare Festival, which he founded in 1980 and directed for 13 seasons, was named one of the leading Shakespeare festivals in the country by the Cambridge Guide to World Theatre, while his anthology on documentary theatre has been termed a “landmark” publication by scholars in the field. His first play Steel/City, written with Gil Elvgren, made the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s “Ten Best” list in 1976 and was named best production of the year by the Pittsburgh City Paper in 1992. For his most recent play, The Gammage Project, he received the 2012 Artistic Achievement award from the Pittsburgh Black Political Empowerment Project. In between, he was given a “Hebrew name” by the United Jewish Federation in appreciation of his producing the Jewish Play Festival and Conference on Jewish Playwriting (1983), and his play In the Garden of Live Flowers, written with Lynne Conner, won the Kennedy Center David Mark Cohen award (2002).

You can see video of Dr. Favorini's "Last Class" by following this link. 

Additional Information

Values and Commitments

The “Pittsburgh” in the title of the University has always been central to Dr. Favorini’s theatre work. Many of his nine plays address the city’s history and draw on its citizens’ memories. Steel/City (1976) delved both into the ambition-driven titans who founded the steel industry as well as the often anonymous workers who wrought the products that made the modern world, all the while assessing the impact of the industry on the living, breathing city. Hearts and Diamonds (1980) looked at the lives of sometime Pittsburghers Lillian Russell and Willa Cather as alternative models for the emerging new woman            . Yearbook (1993), written for Generations Together, compared the Pittsburgh high school experiences of students fifty years ago with those of the present. In the Garden of Live Flowers (2001) celebrated Springdale native and environmental pioneer Rachael Carson, who wrote the world-changing Silent Spring while fighting breast cancer and sexist attacks on her scientific credentials. Rachel Carson Saves the Day! (2006) and Lessons from the Birds (2010) retold Carson’s story for young audiences, while addressing Pennsylvania’s academic standards on environmental science. The productions were sponsored by the Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh. The Gammage Project (2012) controversially explored the death of a black motorist at the hands of five white policemen in Pittsburgh’s white suburbs in 1995.

Though originally written for a Pittsburgh campus audience, Dr. Favorini’s plays have been performed in whole or in part at the Smithsonian’s Festival of American Folklife, the Conference of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education; the Three Rivers Arts Festival; the August Wilson Center; and in theatres in Lexington, KY, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston and at several high schools and colleges, including Carnegie-Mellon University. Twelve minutes of Steel/City were broadcast nationally on the Today Show in 1976.

Dr. Favorini has frequently described the nature and character of Pitt’s Department of Theatre Arts as “the opposite of a conservatory, which trains students in a protective shell that separates young artists from their community neighbors, civic identity, and social engagement. By contrast, our work is (to borrow a phrase from ancient Roman proclamations) ‘urbi et orbi’—of the city and of the world. Our doors open both ways, opening out to let our students and faculty become engaged with the artistic and civic opportunities afforded by our host city, and opening in to welcome and frequently harbor a wider theatre community eager to encounter the perspective and practices of scholar-artists.”

Most obviously springing from this vision, which entails educating audiences as much as educating artists, are the plays for Pittsburgh created by Dr. Favorini, his colleagues and students, and the Shakespeare-in-the-Schools (SITS) program, which has served more than 100,000 area students and teachers for more than two decades with performances, workshops and residencies. Perhaps less recognized is the openness of the University’s theatre facilities to other theatrical enterprises, local, national and international. In 1973, Dr. Favorini established a program to encourage regional theatres to share productions, joining hands with the old Pittsburgh Playhouse, which was to take a production to the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven in exchange for Long Wharf’s brilliant production of Shaw’s Candida performed in Pitt’s Stephen Foster Memorial. The financial failure of the old Playhouse ended this program, which metamorphosed into the beloved Pittsburgh 99¢ Floating Theatre Festival, bringing the best of the world’s avant-garde theatre to Pittsburgh for the next decade.

Another endangered theatre offered what Dr. Favorini perceived as an enriching opportunity for the city and the University. When the “Pittsburgh City Players” were displaced from the Hazlett Theatre in 1979, Dr. Favorini secured a CETA grant to keep the company alive, renamed it City Theatre Company, found support to convert a neglected campus space into a new theatre and hired Marc Masterson as Artistic Director for what became a celebrated eleven-year run at the University. During this time the CTC mounted a regular season of American classic and new plays, then joined with the Three Rivers Shakespeare Festival during summers. At Dr. Favorini’s instigation, the University currently houses the Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre as its professional theatre in residence.

Generally less known is the inclination of University of Pittsburgh theatre arts graduates to recognize the opportunity for meaningful work close to home. Pittsburgh Musical Theatre (Ken Gargaro), barebones productions (Patrick Jordan), City Theatre (Marc Masterson), Quantum Theatre (Karla Boos) and the Department of Theatre at Point Park University (Sheila McKenna) were all founded or directed by Pitt grads. To be sure, these worthy artists also took graduate or undergraduate degrees elsewhere as well, but Dr. Favorini is proud that Pitt is doing its part to keep young, talented Pittsburghers settled near the three rivers instead of on the two coasts.

Innovations and Strategies

One of the most successful strategies for supporting the retention of Pittsburgh artists was devised by Dr. Favorini in the late 1990s. The Teaching-Artist-in-Residence program offers visiting faculty appointments (usually for a term of 3-4 years) to mid or early career theatre artists. The artists are given an initial orientation and teacher training preparation and are put under the tutelage of the Head of Performance in the Department of Theatre Arts. During their tenure, they will teach beginning and advanced classes (monitored by senior faculty and evaluated by the Office of Measurement and Evaluation), perform with the University of Pittsburgh Repertory Theatre and with the SITS program. Room is allowed in their schedules to continue their professional careers. They have full faculty benefits (health, fitness facilities, library privileges, etc.) during their tenure. This has been a win/win situation in which the artists are taught to teach—thereby sparing themselves from much less desirable “day jobs”—and earn a living wage with benefits, while the Department is enriched by the artistic talents of the professionals joining the performance cadre. The net effect is also to increase the talent pool available to all Pittsburgh theatres. The Teaching-Artist-in-Residence program has won the support of prominent theatre philanthropists, as well as prestigious foundations. The Department now enjoys 4 and ½ Teaching Artist positions, with another ½ promised in a bequest.

Though Dr. Favorini has long been interested and involved with sustainability and protection of the environment, he has recently proposed to apply the highest standards of sustainability to the theatre operations at the University of Pittsburgh and to convert the two theatres in the landmark Stephen Foster Memorial into models for emulation in the region. In broad outline, Dr. Favorini’s plan is to replace the current HVAC system with the latest sensor and sector control technology; to upgrade the lighting system with energy efficient instruments using LED technology (with an additional cost savings in reducing air-conditioning needs, as the new instruments emit far less heat); to rethink set design, converting to reusable construction components and toxin-free paints and materials; and to create an online inventory of costumes and props to be shared by local theatres, thereby reducing costs, carbon footprints and waste.

In the retrospect afforded by Dr. Favorini’s imminent (August 2013) retirement, there appears to be a thread running through his multitudinous activities: in the City of Bridges he has been a builder. His creative and scholarly work regularly bridges the “two cultures” of the sciences and the humanities, as exemplified in his major work Memory in Play From Aeschylus to Sam Shepard, which explores the correlations between scientific constructions and theatrical representations of memory. His Steel/City strives to bridge the gap between classes, his Gammage Project the racial divide, his Yearbook the generation gap. He has forged links with the Jewish community and the women’s rights movement. He has built bridges to the region’s schools that have withstood heavy traffic for almost 25 years. He has worked with the Entertainment Technology Center at CMU to create an innovative drama teaching evolution to high school students, using one live actor and one virtual actor.

He founded the Department of Theatre Arts, the Three Rivers Shakespeare Festival, the Shakespeare-in-the-Schools program, the Teaching Artist program, and the University Senate Sustainability Subcommittee. He oversaw the construction or renovation of the Randall Theatre, the Heymann Theatre and the Studio Theatre—all of which open their doors to other producing theatres in the city. He built a foundation for the City Theatre when it needed it most. The Three Rivers Shakespeare Festival helped to build a whole new generation of Shakespeare lovers and contributed substantially to Pittsburgh’s second Renaissance.

Now happily Professor Emeritus, he enjoys staying in touch with alumni and former students.

Research Interest Summary

Shakespeare, tragic and comic theory, documentary theatre, theatre and memory

Education & Training

  • PhD, Yale