Jack Blackburn

Inducted into the Dayton Theatre Hall of Fame, August 22, 2005.

Jack Blackburn loved the theatre. He loved everything about it. He loved to act. He loved to direct. He loved to build sets. He loved to design and build costumes. He talked about theatre. Endlessly. What play was on Broadway? What play had potential for our local theatre? What play he would like to do. What play he knew you could do. He loved theatre. He loved the doing of it. He loved the sights and sounds of it. He has a long and varied career spanning over 30 years until his death in 1989.

We could be here simply to recognize Jack as an actor. Or we could speak to his role as a director. Or we could highlight his set designs or his costuming. Jack Blackburn excelled in all of these area and more.

As an actor Jack appeared in many award-winning roles. Harold in The Boys in the Band; the Marquis De Sade in Maret/Sade; Bert in Geniuses. His most favorite role was Papa in The Heningway Play.

Jack acted with the Black Friars Guild, Town Hall Players, Dayton Theatre Guild, and Illumination Theatre and with the Dayton Playhouse.

Jack was the first person to have performed in all four locations of the Dayton Playhouse/Dayton Community Theatre locations: At Longfellow School, at the State Theater, in the refurbished bowling alley on Third Street and finally in its present location at Wergerzyn.

Jack loved the State Theater. He thought that the State should be saved from the wrecking ball. It was a great old theatre. The fly space was amazing; the dressing rooms were shabby but still dignified. There was a working fountain the lobby that had three wonderful stained glass panels. He formed the SOS committee and lobbied City Hall to save it. He made speeches to no avail. Later he would remind us that the Victoria was not the best but just the last theater standing.

As a director Jack mounted such plays as The Killing of Sister George, Summertree, The Women, and the musical Pippin. Those who worked under his direction remember him as being thoughtful and sensitive. He paid close attention to detail. He wanted it right. He wanted it authentic.

Jack loved staged curtain calls. We joked that the curtain call for The Women took almost as long as the first act had.

Jack was in his element as a set designer and as a costumer. He built stage models to scale. They were works of art and they were workable. Directors had no difficulty moving their actors onto Jack’s sets.

He excelled in costume design, having spent two years studying at the Cleveland Playhouse. He would come to the theatre with full color drawings of his costumes. He would drape fabrics on the actors, measure and fit and then pull out the portable sewing machine and set to work. His sets and costumes for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum are still talked about today. He was inclined to go way; way over budget but the results were fabulous.

Jack thought that theatre should do more than entertain. He wanted theatre to inform, and confront the audiences as well as amuse. Dayton Community Theatre (now known as the Dayton Playhouse) was known for producing musicals and light drama. Jack invited some of us to form a group we called the Dayton Repertory Theatre with the stated purpose of mounting more serious and even controversial plays.

Jack was responsible for the Creative Awards system at the Dayton Playhouse. This award is given at the Annual Recognition. It was known as the Huey. Named for a local watering hole that fell victim to Urban Renewal. He designed and sculpted the emblem that is a part of this award. After his death the Huey was renamed the Blackburn Award of Excellence.

Jack could do it all and do it well. He was a bright and shinning star to those of us who knew him and loved him. Temperamental, difficult at time, but always exciting.

In recognition of sustained dedication, achievement and contribution to the theatre of Miami Valley:

I hereby induct Jack Blackburn into the Dayton Theatre Hall of Fame.

--Shirley Landis