Published on NYTimes.com from April 12 to April 13, 2011
Arthur Lessac, one of the most highly-regarded and original teachers in the world of voice, speech, singing, and movement, died at age 101, on April 7, 2011. He continued to live a full life up until a week before he passed. At the end of March, the remarkable Mr. Lessac was creating a new drama department, teaching at the University of Rijeka in Croatia. In his early years, Lessac started his singing explorations as a tenor in churches, synagogues, and mosques as part of a Christmas quartet composed of Josh White, Paul Robeson and Burl Ives. His eclecticism started there.
In 1962, Mr. Lessac was invited by Elia Kazan and Robert Whitehead to train the original Lincoln Center Repertory Theatre Company with Robert Lewis and Anna Sokolow. Over the next thirty years his work moved into the area of health and longevity, incorporating what he called a Kinesensic holistic approach to physical and emotional health. Known for not falling into traditional categories, Lessac lived believing that we are all singers and dancers and devoted himself to protecting the innate skills and energies that keep our perceptions from becoming habits and our bodies from becoming old.
His books, The Use and Training of the Human Voice and The Use and Training of the Human Body, have become required reading for countless students and remain a lasting contribution to the fields of acting and performing and clinical speech therapy. He had just finished writing his third book.
In 1998, the Lessac Institute was founded and continues certifying trainers throughout North America, Europe and Africa. His work has touched three generations of performers. He has served as a keynote speaker around the world and is a recipient of numerous honors from universities and theatre associations. Lessac was an acting member in the Voice and Speech Trainers Association, Association for Theatre in Higher Education, Speech Communication Association, American Speech and Hearing Association, AmericanAlliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dances and Association of Theatre Movement Educators.
Lessac attended the Eastman School of Music and received his BS and MA degrees from New York University, worked with patients at Bellevue hospital, and taught at the Stella Adler studio and Jewish theological seminary in NY. A professor at S.U.N.Y. from 1970-1981 (now Emeritus), he also served as a visiting professor at the University of Puerto Rico, California State University, and the University of Virginia.
As a performer, Lessac began as a boy soprano in 1919, a cantorial singer in the late 20s and was part of the 1937 Broadway production “Pins and Needles”. He capped this side stage career with episodes of Cheers, Sara, and a short role in Mickey and Maud in his mid-late years.
Two weeks ago he was still thinking young—teaching and dancing in the streets of Rijeka, Croatia, with students of his new academy of voice and speech.
He is survived by his son, daughter, two grandchildren, cousins, and thousands of friends, students and extended family around the world.