CSU Theatre Program mourns the death of founder Porter Woods

Porter Woods Memorial Photo

Porter Woods died gently on Friday, July 22, 2011 in Fort Collins after a full life of 80 years. He was a teacher, playwright, director and musician.

Porter was a member of the National Cathedral Choir and graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington D.C in 1948. In 1952, he received his Bachelor of Arts from Brown University, where he was a member and soloist with the University Glee Club and a founding member of the Jabberwocks. While at Brown, he also met his future wife, Gail Erickson of Edgewood, Rhode Island.

While Gail completed college, Porter taught at the Cambridge School in Weston, Massachusetts. They married on June 12, 1954. The summer of their wedding, he and Gail moved cross-country to Salem, Oregon, where Porter explored careers and worked on his Master of Arts in English Literature at the University of Oregon. During these years and subsequently he continued to sing, often joining in with choirs of various faiths.

On a friend’s advice he applied to Yale University (School of Drama) which accepted him to work on a Doctorate in Fine Arts, playwriting and directing. In 1961, the couple left for Yale, with son Timothy and daughter Katherine in the back of a VW bug. (It was tight.) Having no car radio, they sang the entire way to the east coast. This family tradition, which Porter and Gail began on their honeymoon, continued throughout the years. Following his graduation from Yale, Porter, now with third child Constance, taught English and directed plays, and next at Grinnell College in Iowa, where he headed the theatre department.

Porter Woods came to the Colorado State University Theatre in August of 1970 and for the next 28 years engaged in an active career teaching, directing, playwriting and serving as Director of Theatre for a number of those years. His first production, designed by Robert Braddy, was A Streetcar Named Desire. During his CSU years, Porter directed more than 60 productions, his last at CSU Six Degrees of Separation in 1998, performed to a full house almost every night during a two-week run in the spring.

“It really was an enjoyable night at the theater,” Woods said in a 1998 Coloradoan article announcing his retirement from CSU. “And it is officially my last performance.”

He was a Visiting Professor in the Department of Foreign Languages at the National Taiwan University, Taiwan, R.O.C. in the fall of 1988. In the academic year 1984-85 he was a Fulbright Lecturer at the National Taiwan University. In the fall of 1980, he was a faculty member of the University of Colorado’s Semester-at-Sea Program. He was the author of two books, Experiencing Theatre and Teacher as Actor which he co-authored with colleague, Morris Burns. Porter and Morris gave workshops on the subject of the “teacher as actor” on campuses throughout the country. Porter had a penchant for seeing new ways to direct classic plays an example was his production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth set in Central America where the actors began the performance in Spanish and slowly made their way into English. He was equally at home directing plays, musicals and operas. Two of his own plays, Blodgett and Night Nurse were staged at CSU during Porter’s tenure.

Porter also guided many students enabling them to achieve their hopes. Academe was his fulfillment, and the 28-years of work and collaboration at CSU with Robert Braddy and Morris Burns were extremely rewarding. Together, they nurtured and enriched theatre in Ft. Collins for keeps.

Beneath all of these facts is the soul of a caring and reassured artist and teacher, a teacher who had the most empathy and sensitive feeling for the most vulnerable of students. He and Gail came to the assistance of many of these young people down through the years. “Porter and Gail have been such steadfast and wonderful friends to the artistic community in Fort Collins and at CSU,” said Walt Jones, assistant chair of the Department of Music Theatre and Dance at CSU. “His wit and humor, his intelligence and compassion were matched only by the size of his talent and heart. Although I only arrived at CSU in 2006 and never had an opportunity to work with Porter, he laid out such a careful road map for our theatre program at CSU, that following Porter’s map has been easy. Porter will be missed.”

There will be a celebration in honor of Porter hosted by Bas Bleu Theatre Company on Tuesday, August 16 at 5:30 pm. This will be a festive celebration for those friends, patrons, students, and colleagues who shared Porter’s passion for theatre.

A memorial service will be at Plymouth Congregational Church, Fort Collins at 2 p.m. August 17. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the College of Liberal Arts Memorial Fund to help establish a scholarship in Porter’s name. Please send checks, made payable to CSU Foundation, to CSU Theatre at 1778 Campus Delivery, Fort Collins, CO 80523-1778.

Porter is survived by his wife, Gail, three children, and six grandchildren and over 500 alumni of the theatre program.