December 8, 1922 to October 12, 2005
Roger Altenberg was born in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in Rockaway Beach and Manhattan and graduated from Horace Mann School in 1939. When he was in an elevator at age 5, Rachmaninoff kissed his brother Henry. He attended Brown University from 1939 to 1941. He moved to California during the war, graduated as a Master Aviation Mechanic at Curtiss-Wright Technical Institute in 1942, and completed his Bachelors in 1944 at USC. He completed two years of medical school at USC before deciding that theater was his true calling. He completed his Masters at Western Reserve in 1948, and began doctoral work at Stanford in 1951, completed his Ph.D. in 1964 at USC with a study of Gilmor Brown's Fairoaks Playbox, the forerunner of the Pasadena Playhouse.
In 1951-1953 he was faculty and Dean of Men at the California College of Arts and Crafts. He married Elizabeth Lee Boyd in 1954. He wrote and performed plays with her for the TV show “Church In Thy House” on KPIX in San Francisco. In 1954 he joined the faculty of California State University at Los Angeles, retiring as Professor of Theatre Arts at in 1986. He brought some of the first performances of Black theater to Cal State, including Benito Cereno, The Dutchman, Purlie Victorious, and In White America, and directed other major plays, including The Lark, Look Homeward Angel, Pennsylvania Here I Come, Tom Jones, and The Front Page.
He began a study of psychodrama with Jacob Moreno and Lewis Yablonsky in 1966 and in 1974 got a Masters in Humanistic Psychology from Sonoma State University. Roger was noted for his innovative work in drama therapy for which he developed several undergraduate and graduate courses during the 1970s. Although that program did not become a formal degree option, a number of students who chose it went on to professional careers in that field.
In 1979, he was a co-founder of the National Association for Drama Therapy, and served on its board for a number of years. NADT certifies drama therapists and trainers of prospective therapists, and Roger was instrumental in developing its professional standards.
After retiring he lived in Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, Monterey, Austin, and Santa Cruz.
In 1993 he had a silent heart attack and developed congestive heart failure. He joined his son Lee at Duke University, and they moved to Maui in 1994 where the warm climate would be protective because of a rare blood disorder, cryoglobulinemia. They lived in Nashville in 1997-1998 for his medical treatment. On Maui he served on the Board of the Maui Community Theater, attended playwriting, poetry, Spanish, and acting classes at Maui Community College, studied harp and watercolor, and performed as Ahab in a world-premiere reading of Joyce Adler's dramatization of Moby-Dick for the 2003 Melville Conference.
His great passions were traveling, language, reading history, music, and theater, and the harp. He delighted in his grandchildren. In his last years he commenced a reading of the complete Dickens, a study of the Civil War and Russian Revolution, a wide foray into French literature, and completed two trips to France with his son in 2002 and 2003. He thanks all his “angels” --- those who would just come up and offer help as he made his way through the world in his last years.
He was predeceased by his parents Leo and May Altenberg, and his brother Norman B. Altenberg. He is survived by his brother Henry Edward Altenberg, his former wife of fourteen years Elizabeth Lee, and his two sons, Lee, born on his 34th birthday, and Wayne, Wayne's wife Jennifer, and their two sons Ray and Ross.