Only 19 of Arthur Storch’s 87 years were spent in Syracuse, but they were the most important for him and for us. Storch was 48, a well-regarded New York City stage director and actor, in the winter of 1973-1974 when he arrived to found Syracuse Stage. Significantly, he was recruited the previous summer from the Berkshire Festival, a venue with the highest professional standards, miles from midtown Manhattan. And that’s what Storch (above, in a December 1988 photo session) sought to do here.
As he said in a 1988 interview with the Syracuse New Times, “I like to shake up audiences, but I never play down to them. People who come to Syracuse Stage should expect to find the excitement and professionalism they would get at a top-dollar Broadway theater.” Storch died March 5 in New York City.
Storch’s first move was around the corner to what was then called the Experimental Theatre, where shows as different as Clifford Odets’ Waiting for Lefty and Georges Feydeau’s Flea in Her Ear quickly began to draw sellout crowds. That theater is now named for him. He then set about remodeling Syracuse University’s prime facility, the shabby, pre-World War I movie house called the Regent, into the 499-seat Archbold, completed in 1980. Although he harbored much affection for forgotten American plays, such as Booth Tarkington’s Clarence or Ketti Freng’s adaptation of Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward Angel, he came to be associated, by both admirers and detractors, with an impulse to push the edges. Well-remembered is the full-frontal nudity in Terrence McNally’s Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune.
His most important legacy, however, is not controversy but quality. His reputation as the SU Drama Department chairman helped to draw top students to compete for admission. The Syracuse Stage brand is so admired that any performer who appears here always cites it in credits. His example spilled over into the local community theater scene. His was an artistic tide that lifted all boats.
A retrospective of Arthur Storch’s Syracuse career will appear in an upcoming issue of the Syracuse New Times.