Herbert Katz

Obituary of Herbert L. Katz

Herb Katz died peacefully in his sleep on Tuesday, March 24 after a valiant battle against cancer, Parkinson’s Disease and lifelong depression. He was a courageous survivor for many years until his body just gave out. Predeceased by his parents, Hannah and Joseph Katz of Philadelphia; his in-laws Tom and Angie Grenga and sister-in-law Ceil Amalfi. He is survived by his loving wife of 30 years, June Rousseau Katz, and her wonderful family, his brother Seymour (Dot) Katz, two nieces and a nephew plus special friends Patty Chadwick, Jerry Goldman, Jack Haldoupis, David Runzo and Randi Winterman.

He is also survived by hundreds of loving friends in the greater Rochester theater community and many of the young people he mentored who became professional actors and directors. The family is also grateful for the medical staff at Pluta Cancer Center and for Katherine Schroeder Bruce for giving him a good quality of life for many years.

A native of Philadelphia, Herb graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Education in 1959.  He went on to perform and direct while in the Army’s entertainment special services at Fort Eustis, VA.

By the age of 27, Herb had starring roles at the Newfoundland Musical Summer Theater, a rich career at Skidmore College, Boston University, Comedy Arts Theater, the Charles Theater Group in Boston and was hired for commercials. He even performed on The Ed Sullivan Show. Herb earned his MFA degree in Directing from Boston University in 1966, where his Master’s Thesis was directing John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. But his favorite play remained Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.

After working in schools and Jewish Community Centers in New Jersey and Delaware, Herb was hired as Arts Director for the Jewish Community Center of Greater Rochester in 1977. He hit the ground running by ramping up the quality of its all-volunteer theater and special events program. He started SummerStage, a theater program for teenagers, and conducted a regular Readers Theater Group. Somehow, he also found time to run an impressive art gallery all with a very small paid staff. In 1993, Herb served as the president of the Council of Jewish Theaters.

While primarily involved in arts administration and producing his theatrical offerings, Herb also began acting in plays performed by Blackfriars Theater, Shipping Dock Theater, and the JCC CenterStage when the character roles seemed just right for him. He started slowly by playing the dancing gorilla in Cabaret. Then, he expanded his acting roles through the years, performing as Mr. Cellophane in Chicago, King, a riverboat con man in Big River, a wicked stepsister along with David Runzo in Cinderella and so many more local productions. One of his favorite roles was narrating Bernstein’s Kaddish Symphony at the Eastman Theater with a full orchestra and 150-person choir.

In 2002, Herb partnered with writer Paula Marchese and composer/lyricist Patty Chadwick to create an original one-man show about his lifelong struggle with depression. He sang, acted and danced in his poignant memoir Depression: The Musical. He had hoped to send the videotaped performance around the country to schools to lift the shroud of depression, start important conversations and maybe even save a few lives.

Herb was full of ideas after his retirement from the JCC in 2005. He co-founded The Reel Mind Film Series which dealt with a wide range of mental health issues depicted in documentaries and animated films. He also organized the annual Break A Leg gala where local theater groups were invited to introduce their upcoming seasons. After the Break A Leg gala began, the Rochester theater community grew to be much more supportive and positive about promoting other theater companies that they had previously seen as competition. Of course, many people were involved in making his ideas a reality.

Every year, Herb and June traveled to Niagara-on-the-Lake to attend the Shaw Festival. And several times a year, they would travel to New York City seeing as many Broadway plays that they could squeeze into a week. Herb had been acting since second grade, but he never stopped watching and learning. The theater was his life and it was a wonderful life!

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Herb’s memory to the Jewish Community Center Center Stage Department 1200 Edgewood Avenue, Rochester, NY 14618 in care of Ralph Meranto.

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