It is with sadness and regret that Trinity Repertory Company responds to the death of Milton Stanzler, 91, the instrumental force behind the creation of Trinity Repertory Company, and Chairman of the Board for the theater's first twelve years.
Artistic Director Curt Columbus states, "This is a very sad day for Trinity Rep, for Rhode Island, and for theater. Truly, we owe our very existence today to Milton and his indefatigable vision to create a vibrant home for artistic expression in Providence. None of us would be here without Milton Stanzler. His legacy lives on in thousands of palpable, important ways every day at Trinity Repertory Company."
Milton Stanzler was one of the founding fathers of Trinity Repertory Company, supporting and crafting the organization from its roots as small community theater, to its place today – almost 50 years later – as a professional, Tony-award winning regional theater.
Born in New York City in 1921, he moved to Rhode Island at the age of ten with his family, attended Hope High School in Providence, and went on to study at the University of Rhode Island. During World War II, he served in military intelligence as a Japanese translator at the University of Michigan and elsewhere in the Midwest. He earned his law degree at Boston University and ran his own successful legal practice for over 40 years. After founding the Rhode Island affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, he also served as its first president in 1959.
In the spring of 1962, Milton Stanzler first proposed his vision of establishing a professional theater in Providence to friends Norman Tilles, Robert Kaplan and actress Barbara Orson. While the challenges facing the group were many, over the next year they pursued their common goal of making Milton's dream a reality. They soon assembled of a core company of actors, hired then New York-based theater director Adrian Hall as their first artistic director, and in 1964, they opened the doors to the Trinity Square Playhouse's first production, Brendan Behan's The Hostage.
Over the next decade, Milton worked to ensure that Trinity Rep became a national institution, soon standing as national model, bridging art, education and community.
Columbus says, "He forged so many of the initial partnerships and relationships within the local business and philanthropic community that are still lasting today. Starting with his inspiration, and continuing with years of tireless support, Milton was instrumental in helping Trinity Rep become the vibrant cultural institution that has made the Ocean State a great place to live for three generations, and counting."
Ubiquitous in his front-row-center seats on opening nights, Milton was the author of Providence Is No Longer Just A Train Stop: The Trinity Repertory Company-Its First Twelve Years, and for over thirty-eight years remained actively involved at the theater as Emeritus Trustee, press notes state. Throughout his retirement, Stanzler remained one of Trinity Rep's most passionate and loyal enthusiasts.
"When I first interviewed at Trinity in 2005, Milton was one of the first people I met," says current Artistic Director Curt Columbus, "He drove me to his favorite deli on the East Side and talked with such clarity and passion about this theater that it made me want to move to Providence and work here at that very moment."
In 2005, he was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in recognition of his contributions to freedom of expression and the cultural legacy of the state. In 2000, Trinity Rep established The Stanzler Society, recognizing Milton and other friends who have included Trinity Repertory Company in their estate plans in support of the theater's endowment.
He is survived by his wife Selma (Schmuger-Klitzner) his children, Jonathan Stanzler of Cranston, Jill Stanzler-Katz and her husband Jeff Katz of West Roxbury, MA, his step children Stephanie Penzell of Warwick, David Penzell and his wife Nannette of Chicago, and grandchildren Alexandra Stanzler Katz, Samantha Stanzler Katz, Robbie Penzell and Jaclyn Penzell. He was a beloved uncle to many nieces and nephews.