Alma Becker

Alma Becker

6/2/2013

Alma Becker, nationally recognized theater director and longtime member of Skidmore's Theater Department, died June 2, 2013, following a long illness. She was 67.

A native of North Dakota, Alma spent her childhood in southern California, where she trained as an actress at Pasadena Playhouse. She apprenticed in summer stock at the Sharon (Connecticut) Playhouse, among others. She later became a part of the blossoming theater community in the San Francisco area, combining her acting skills with a new passion for directing and earning numerous awards in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

In 1981, she moved to New York City and became involved with New Dramatists, receiving a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for directing and a Jerome Foundation Directing Grant. It was in New York City that she became involved with the Women's Project Theater and met Skidmore's Theater Department Chair Carolyn Anderson 27 years ago. Carolyn and Wilma Hall, professor emerita of American studies, had written a play and Alma was to direct a staged reading. Said Carolyn, "I thought to myself, 'This woman is really gifted.' I liked how she worked with us as writers and how she worked with actors."

She invited Alma to direct the Moss Hart play Light Up the Sky, which opened in the Janet Kinghorn Bernhard Theater in 1987. Carolyn recalled, "The students loved working with her. She was patient, kind, and demanding."

Alma also wanted to learn about the world beyond the theater. She was interested in other cultures, political ideas, art, and music – "a real interdisciplinary thinker," noted Carolyn.

When an opportunity arose in the next year to hire a new faculty member, Alma was the choice. She joined the Theater Department as an artist-in-residence in 1988 and was eventually named a senior artist-in-residence, a title she held until her retirement in March 2013. According to Carolyn, "I wanted to hire someone that we could all learn from. She was an incredible professional colleague – the best colleague that we could ever hope for and a role model for all of us. She loved her art and her work, and we all loved her."

That sentiment was echoed by fellow artist-in-residence Gary Wilson and alumnus David Miner '91. Wilson called her "a great collaborator. I loved working with her and she loved working with students. She was very generous with them. At one point I realized that I had not been working as closely with her, and I said that I was looking forward to working with her again but I felt several students were ready to collaborate with her. She said that as long as I kept giving her a chance to work with such wonderful students, she did not much miss working with me."

Miner called himself "lucky" to be one of her students and cast members. He explained, "She cast me in a bit part in Light Up the Sky, the first semester of my freshman year, and I was instantly hooked on her and the department. Alma was brilliant as a director, patient as a teacher, generous as a collaborator. She was the bright sun in the center of the department, beckoning us to come closer and giving us strength to grow."

Alma shared her knowledge and talents in the community as well, becoming actively involved with SaratogaArtsFest from its inception and Home Made Theater, where she directed Steel Magnolias in 1994 and then 11 additional shows over the years. She also served on HMT's advisory board starting in the 1995-96 season. General manager Stacie Mayette Barnes said Alma "brought to HMT her leadership, her passion for theater and her talent for creating art. As with any gifted director, you could see Alma in her productions. She created stunning stage pictures, and her shows moved beautifully."

Barnes credited Alma "for an important link between the Skidmore community and HMT, paving the way for numerous students to get involved. They brought their talent to us as actors, directors, and designers, and in turn gained experience. We still have working relationships with a number of Skidmore alumni; without Alma this would not be the case."

Alma's survivors include Steve Coats, her loving husband of 33 years; nieces Donna Jean Holmes and Elizabeth Dillon; and nephews James, Jeff, and Joseph Schmidtt.

A celebration of Alma's life and work took place on campus in September.

advisory board starting in the 1995-96 season. General manager Stacie Mayette Barnes said Alma "brought to HMT her leadership, her passion for theater and her talent for creating art. As with any gifted director, you could see Alma in her productions. She created stunning stage pictures, and her shows moved beautifully."

Barnes credited Alma "for an important link between the Skidmore community and HMT, paving the way for numerous students to get involved. They brought their talent to us as actors, directors, and designers, and in turn gained experience. We still have working relationships with a number of Skidmore alumni; without Alma this would not be the case."

Alma's survivors include Steve Coats, her loving husband of 33 years; nieces Donna Jean Holmes and Elizabeth Dillon; and nephews James, Jeff, and Joseph Schmidtt.

A celebration of Alma's life and work took place on campus in September.

Tags: Memoriam, theater, Alma Becker, Department of Theater
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