Princeton Arts Profiles

A Life in the Theater, Launched at Princeton

PrincetonNYC1_RogerBerlind_0894Long before I was a student at Princeton, I had a passion for music and theater. As a young child, I could play the piano by ear and I wrote, directed, and acted in high school plays. So freshman year I joined the Triangle Club, where I indulged in what I loved for a bit, before academics got in the way. Triangle was a ball. I performed in a student-written farce and managed to get one song into a show. But the late nights and touring wreaked havoc with my grades. So I had to drop out, until the end of my junior year when I got involved with Theatre Intime, acting and directing. It made me sorry that I hadn’t been doing it for the previous three years. For a production of The Importance of Being Earnest, I played one of the butlers. I hammed it up a little, which Oscar Wilde had not intended, but I got some great laughs.

Whether or not you end up becoming a professional in the field, you get a jolt by participating in theater at Princeton. It taps such different parts of your personality—the creative side—that might lie dormant. As it turns out, I ended up becoming a Broadway producer after some 20 years in the financial world. It’s no exaggeration to say that my theater experiences at Princeton impacted much of what I did subsequently.

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, as I helped put on Theatre Intime productions in Murray-Dodge, I would learn things that would come in handy sooner rather than later.

Right out of college I became a private in the Army’s Counterintelligence Corps and found myself on a rocky troop ship. I got out of the hold by volunteering to put on a show and managed to get it finished the day before we landed. My second year in the Army, I came up with the idea of creating a film to train new personnel. That was a wonderful boondoggle because I got to move out of the barracks in Germany where I was stationed and into a private house, with a maid and cook. That was good living for a private.

Theatre Intime, though fairly bare bones when I was in college, had been a snapshot of what I would have to do when putting on a show on Broadway—with all the same kinds of challenges. But at Princeton we didn’t have to raise any money and I didn’t have anybody looking over my shoulder saying something wasn’t good.

To this day—having been a producer for nearly 40 years—I am still fascinated by the theater. As it did for me, digging into it at an early age can keep you going to shows all your life. With the addition of Berlind Theatre and the more developed theater program at Princeton, there are so many more opportunities to be involved. I’m thrilled that I could contribute to its expansion.

I want the University to be known as a great place to go if you are interested in theater. After all, it makes your life a hell of a lot more enjoyable.