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Barrier-breaking director recalled

The Feb. 3 death of Ike Schambelan ’61 brings a close—or at least an intermission—to his deep devotion to Swarthmore, especially its theater program.

Ike was internationally known for Theater By The Blind, as noted in a July 2013 Bulletin article. The troupe began in New York in 1980 and was renamed in 2008 to Theater Breaking Through Barriers (TBTB) to reflect that blindness was only one barrier. Today’s TBTB includes actors using crutches and wheelchairs.

In 1999 Ike wrote that he and I probably met at Little Theater Club productions of Glass Menagerie, Winter’s Tale, and Family Reunion. “I assistant-stage managed or stage managed all three,” he said. “I was a lowly freshman, so barely noticeable.” (I wrote background music for the plays. Both Ike and I were heavily indebted to the encouragement of Barbara Pearson Lange ’31.)

My frequent correspondence with Ike was unusual for me. He was an enormously busy person who often began letters, “Thank you so much for your super contribution of $10 in support of our work.” But the bulk of our correspondence was about plays. Had he ever performed a play from ancient Greece? I asked. Why not Oedipus Rex, in which Oedipus has solved the riddle of the sphinx?: “What creature walks in the morning on four feet, at noon upon two, and at evening upon three?”

I once asked Ike if anything could be done with John Milton, who wrote poems about his blindness. Since a poem is not a play, someone would first have to write a play about Milton. Unfortunately, we never discussed that possibility and who might write it.

Both Ike and I knew Yeats’ line, “In dreams begins responsibility.” Ike was a dreamer. In TBTB he took responsibility for realizing his dreams.

—Charles A. Miller ’59
New Market, Va.