Legendary UBC theatre professor and director Klaus Strassmann dies

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      One of B.C.'s most memorable theatre professors has died.

      From 1964 to 1991, Klaus Strassmann was an anchor in the UBC theatre department, inspiring many of B.C.'s best actors, directors, and set designers.

      In his first three years on campus, he directed Joy Coghill in two productions—as Winnie in Samuel Beckett's Happy Days and as Clare in Friedrich Durrenmatt's The Visit, which both played at the Frederic Wood Theatre.

      He also mentored Camille Mitchell and many other actors, according to his friend Gerald Vanderwoude, UBC's assistant dean, facilities and human resources.

      Strassmann was born in 1926 and died at Purdy Pavilion on UBC's Point Grey campus on March 3. In May of last year, he suffered two strokes.

      "Klaus was an explorer of life," Vanderwoude told the Straight by phone. "He was a great guy."

      Strassmann was one of Vanderwoude's professors while he was studying for a master's degree at UBC in the 1980s.

      He recalled that as a director, Strassmann had a reputation for delaying making decisions.

      "It used to drive set designers and the tech crew nuts because he wouldn't commit until the very, very end," Vanderwoude said. "And I think what he was always trying to do was let the actors know that it was an ever-evolving process. Your journey didn't end just because the rehearsals stopped and the show started. He was always looking to see if there was more truth he could find—or a different direction."

      Klaus Strassmann directed well-known B.C. actors, including Joy Coghill (left) and Otto Lowy (right) in The Visit in 1964.
      UBC VTR Collections

      Strassmann made the most out of life, Vanderwoude added, suggesting that perhaps this was linked to his experiences living in Europe during the Second World War.

      "He loved to travel," Vanderwoude said. "He went on a trip to China as recently as four years ago—all over China. It was quite astonishing."

      Strassmann was also caretaker of his building into his mid 80s. He remained physically fit with regular morning walks.

      Vanderwoude said that Strassmann was disciplined and organized, but thrived in a cluttered apartment.

      "He knew that everything that was in there has some special meaning to it."

      Strassmann often left the second "n" off his surname, but legally, it was never changed. 

      Even though he was a master of the theatre, he didn't have a degree in this subject.

      According to Vanderwoude, Strassmann studied philosophy at Stanford.

      He's survived by his son Kirk (wife Danielle), former wives and good friends Satya Danu and Edel Walsh, and many other dear friends.



      Au revoir

      Mar 7, 2014 at 1:39pm

      It's 35 years ago and a young man and woman have just finished rehearsing what passes for a love scene in an O'Casey play.

      "More sax,"

      Klaus says.

      "...Needs more sax."

      Greg Strong, English Dept, Aoyama Gakuin University, Tokyo

      Mar 7, 2014 at 3:34pm

      Klaus was an inspiration to many writers as well. As I understand it, he served in the German army and remarked a bit about it class, talking once about the impact of seeing the non-rep art displayed in a museum after the war (which had been suppressed by the Nazis) and the impact it had on him. For a short time in Germany, he was a pro director but found the pace terrible, 3 weeks per show which was one of the reasons he went into academia. In class, his manner was wonderful. I took a directing course with him and we would wait for his crits of our scenes. He would sit back in his chair, puff on his pipe and say, "Vell, ve have to get to ze raw meat of the situvation..." In his theatre history course, he'd show his amazing collection of slides of famous theatre productions -- Meyerhold, Gordon Craig, introducing us to the "greats" of theatre history, and he'd do impressions of actors/actresses from plays, notably "Happy Days" which he had directed. Years later, early in my academic career as an English professor in Tokyo, while back to Vancouver on a visit, I saw him near his apt at UBC. He still remembered me and got caught up on my news. He was a compelling, inspiring teacher. I try to channel him when I teach today -- whenever I look at Canadian theatre, or a play anywhere for that matter, I think of his critical analysis.