Dugald MacArthur, 86, teacher and man of the theater

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Dugald MacArthur

Dugald MacArthur, 86, of Elkins Park, a director and acting teacher prominent in the Philadelphia theater community, died Tuesday, Sept. 29, from complications of Alzheimer's disease.

Mr. MacArthur, a passionate theater aficionado, received the 2009 Barrymore Lifetime Achievement Award. He was also twice nominated for a Barrymore award for best director.

Mr. MacArthur served as head of the M.F.A. program in acting at Temple University, where he taught and directed for 25 years.

"Theater was his life," Christine MacArthur, Dugald's wife of 34 years, said. "It was everything about him, all he did. He had no other hobbies that I know of."

Born in 1929 in Birmingham, Ala., Mr. MacArthur took after his father and initially pursued a career in business. Before earning an M.B.A. from Harvard University, he attended Dartmouth College.

Despite being "groomed to be a businessman," Mrs. MacArthur said, Mr. MacArthur quit his corporate job in search of a more creative life. After witnessing an inspiring production by director Paul Baker at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, he enrolled at Baylor to receive his master's and begin pursuing theater.

After graduating, Mr. MacArthur was hired as the director of the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock, where he established a professional theater degree program that has since produced nationally recognized actors.

At the time of student protests against the Vietnam War, Mr. MacArthur served as chairman of the theater department at San Francisco State University. During this period, he directed the play Marat/Sade.

A year later, Mr. MacArthur was approached to help formulate the curriculum of a Disney-funded college training program that would become the California Institute of the Arts.

Mr. MacArthur came to Philadelphia in 1973 to head Temple's graduate theater. He also served as a director, consultant, and board member for the Lantern Theater Company, where, after his retirement from Temple, he directed several plays, included The Bacchae, Speed-the-Plow, Copenhagen, and Novecento. He also directed at People's Light & Theatre Company in Malvern, the Philadelphia Theatre Company at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, and Act II Playhouse in Ambler.

"He could work in any form, in any style, but he always seemed to have this way of direction that dug into the very heart of what it is that the playwright was trying to say," said Charlie McMahon, artistic director at the Lantern Theater Company. "He was a person of incredible insight and incredible rigor."

Christine MacArthur said she especially enjoyed dancing with her husband. "Saturday nights, when our kids were little, we would get all dressed up and have these candlelit dinners," she said. "He was a fabulous dancer. There was always romance in our life, and a sense of humor."

In addition to his wife, Mr. MacArthur is survived by daughters Gwyneth, Meredith, and Alexandra; son Lorne; three grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

A memorial service is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 5, at the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral at 19 S. 38th Street.

In lieu of flowers, donations in Mr. MacArthur's memory may be made to the Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia Center at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. Checks are to be made payable to Thomas Jefferson University and mailed to the Office of Institutional Advancement, at 125 S. 9th St., Suite 700, or via Advancement.Jefferson.edu/memorialgiving.

csasko@philly.com