Max Whittaker

Max Whittaker, Director

Max was born November 28, 1920. In 1943 he married Lois M. Thornton (b. July 29, 1923), who had previously danced with the San Francisco Opera Company. They lived in New York for two years before Max was transferred to the Pacific Theater. After World War II, Max was on the faculty of the Speech and Drama Dept. at the University of Nebraska Extension Division while Lois worked for the University art department .

Max joined SBCC in 1959 and taught and produced in Theatre Arts for 27 years. He effectively founded the SBCC Theatre Arts program and for many years was its principal stage director and department chair, teaching theatre appreciation and acting to thousands of students, many of whom went on to professional careers in the industry. His tenure dated back to the days when SBCC’s Theatre was located in what is now Room A-211 in the Administration Building. Before the Garvin Theatre, the old auditorium was the only room on campus that could hold a large number of people.  The first production in that theatre under Max’s direction was The Glass Menagerie. He retired from the college in 1987 after a hundred-plus productions and continued as an adjunct instructor until 1990.  Throughout his tenure, Max was uncompromising in his commitment to his students and in using the study and practice of theatre as a vehicle for shaping their lives and future success.

While Max was chairman of the Speech and Drama Dept at SBCC, Lois worked in the SBCC Bookstore until retirement. She often assisted with the choreography of the college musical productions and the Youth Theatre productions. Lois passed away October 29, 1999, following a prolonged bout with lung cancer.

Max Whittaker, retiree and former chair of the SBCC Theatre Arts Department, passed away on Friday, August 17, 2012.

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“… to turn yourself inside out and see the whole world with fresh eyes.”

Everyone should have a teacher that inspires them. Through most of my school years, I had instructors that I got along with more than others. They were usually English or Speech and Drama teachers. Those persons were the few who upon occasion you could share a bit of dialogue, some philosophy, history and information. And often share a joke or two with them.

It wasn’t until I ended up at Santa Barbara City College that I met a very special person in Max Whittaker. He was head of the Drama Department and was quite a delightful person. I admit I was never a very disciplined student. Not good with the textbooks and slow with the responsibility of it all. I was more of a dreamer. I needed someone to connect the dream into a practical application. Initially, I took Mr. Whittaker’s basic Drama courses and enjoyed the discussion on historical theatre from the Greeks on, etc. But I still felt detached. It was however working in his theatre production classes that I learned to appreciate the talents of the man.

Max Whittaker was a unique individual who truly loved theatre in all its variety. He had an enthusiasm about the art form which he shared among his students if they were willing to tune into his wavelength. He was there for the student, not for his own ego or sense of accomplishment. Santa Barbara, being a showbiz-y commune, was filled with Drama Instructors whose eyes glittered with the twinkle of that town to the south, Hollywood. There were instructors in the high schools who were good at molding up-and-coming pretty thespians for a career on the silver screen. They were industry-types. Max was old school, in the sense that he wished to inspire the student with the love of the art of theatre rather than the product.

I guess I might as well mention here, since I called him Max in that sentence, that I actually never called him by his first name. He had all the other students call him Max, yet in a Steed/Peel Avengers-like way, because I respected the man so much, I could never call him anything but Mr. Whittaker. Yet I think as teacher-student, we were probably more in tune than any of the other first name callers.

Mr. Whittaker and his wife Lois loved theatre. Every summer they would travel to London and see a variety of the latest theatrical offerings. He had an appreciation of the classics but was always open to the most new and cutting edge of productions. It gave me real pleasure to talk about obscure works of theatre with him and see a genuine passion in his eyes for the continued possibilities of theatrical experimentation. When I had seen a recent production of “Abelard and Eloise” at the L.A. Music Center with Keith Michell and Diana Rigg, my suggestion for the work to be produced at the college was embraced by him.

The ultimate thing about Mr. Whittaker that I appreciated most was his encouragement. In a world where I have been surrounded by tin-plated authorities who loved to say the word “no”, Max Whittaker, when offered a creative suggestion, would enthusiastically say “yes.” I was fortunate to be directed by the man in five different productions: “Bury the Dead,” “The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail,” “Love Rides the Rails,” “Abelard and Eloise,” and “Arsenic and Old Lace,” each production better and more satisfying than the last.

The old theatre above Santa Barbara City College’s administrative department was intimate but antiquated. I liked it, but then I’m old, intimate and antiquated. The theatre critic for the Santa Barbara News-Press, Bob Barber, couldn’t review a single play in the college without complaining about the seats. So it was always Mr. Whittaker’s dream that the school would get a new theatre. He lobbied for it and he lobbied for it. When it finally happened, that a new theatre complex would open on the other side of the hill, the credit would go to the new theatre director.

Anyway, my thanks to this dear man who regularly sacrificed his own reputation if it would be helpful to the learning experience of the student.  A true patron of the arts and a man who never received the full appreciation he deserved.

Guy Guden. May, 2010

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Frank Fowler and Max Whitaker were SBCC theatrical legends, having the ability to take neophytes and mold them into genuine actors. During rehearsals there was lots of yelling and high drama, particularly in the case of Frank Fowler, but it was never done maliciously, and everyone emerged a better person after the experience.

Excerpt from SB Production HistoryDec 18, 2012. By RexOfSB

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City College lost another member of its community when Max Whittaker, retired faculty member and former chairman of the Theatre Department, passed away on Aug. 17, at the age of 91.

Whittaker, born Nov. 28, 1920, was a staple of the Santa Barbara theatre community, and director of numerous City College theatre productions. He is survived by his daughter Barbara and two grandchildren.

Patricia Frank, director of design and technology, worked with Whittaker for two years when she started at City College.

“Actors loved to be in his show…that’s probably because he was a very good teacher and had good sense of timing for comedy,” Frank said.

Pamela Shaw, an instructor at theatre arts, worked with Whittaker from 1982-1987 before she left City College.

“[Whittaker was] so generous and wonderful guy to talk to.” Shaw said, “[He was] very caring about students and about me as a really young faculty person to be very welcoming and made the transition not so scary.”

Shaw’s office used to be two doors down from Whittaker’s and she remembers his old-fashioned way of working and how he used to sit with his script and blank papers to clarify stage arrangements. She said he always had a complete image in his head before rehearsals.

Whittaker had two lovely dachshunds, which he loved dearly. More than anything, Whittaker loved his wife Lois, who passed in 1999.

Shaw said, “She had a great independent and fun spirit and he seemed very serious in a way, but he always had a twinkle in his eye.”

The Channels.  Ayaka Namura, Staff Writer
October 10, 2012