Arthur Lee Kopit was born in New York City, New York, on May 10, 1937, the son of George Kopit, a jeweler, and Maxine (née Dubkin) Kopit. He married Leslie Ann Garis, a concert pianist and writer from Amherst, Massachusetts, on March 14, 1968; they have three children: Alex, Ben, and Kathleen.
During an “uneventful” childhood, living in a prosperous suburb in which he found himself to be the “victim of a healthy family life,” Kopit demonstrated an interest in dramatics by entertaining his friends with puppet shows. Radio was an important element in his development; he says, “It’s a much more exciting medium than TV because it involves your creative faculties.” Although he wrote for the school newspaper while attending Lawrence (Long Island) High School, Kopit showed little inclination toward a career in the arts when he was graduated in 1955, and he entered Harvard University with a scholarship to study electrical engineering. After taking some creative writing courses, however, he decided that he wanted to become a playwright, and he was graduated cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa with a bachelor of arts degree in June, 1959.
Kopit’s first theatrical experiences at Harvard took place during his sophomore year; as he reports in the introduction to The Day the Whores Came Out to Play Tennis and Other Plays, “My career was determined.” His class work with Robert Chapman and his success under the tutelage of Gaynor Bradish, a tutor in Dunster House who was in charge of its Drama Workshop, stimulated Kopit’s interest in the stage and introduced him to the fundamentals of playwriting. Over a period of three or four days during his spring vacation, the aspiring dramatist wrote The Questioning of Nick, a one-act play that won a collegewide playwriting contest the following fall; it was subsequently performed on television in New Haven, Connecticut, in June, 1959. The seven other dramas that Kopit wrote while studying at Harvard include Don Juan in Texas, written in collaboration with Wally Lawrence; On the Runway of Life, You Never Know What’s Coming Off Next; Across the River and into the Jungle; “Through a Labyrinth”; and the productions of his senior year, Aubade, Sing to Me Through Open Windows, and To Dwell in a Palace of Strangers, the first act of a projected three-act drama that was published in the Harvard Advocate in May, 1959. A revised version of Sing to Me Through Open Windows was produced Off-Broadway in New York in 1965 and in London in 1976.
During a tour of Western Europe in 1959, Kopit wrote Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad “to enter [in another] playwriting contest at Harvard,” this time in the Adams House competition. Again Kopit’s work won a prize, and the reaction when the play was mounted as a major undergraduate production was so overwhelming that, with the aid of a Ford Foundation grant, it was moved to the Agassiz Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in January, 1960. Kopit had cast a young woman from Radcliffe College in one of his Harvard productions, and through his friendship with her, he was introduced to the Broadway producer Roger L. Stevens. Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad opened at the Phoenix Theatre in New York City on February 26, 1962, as part of their repertory offerings, produced by Stevens and directed by famed choreographer Jerome Robbins. The play ran for 454 performances before it closed on March 31, 1963, and it then toured for eleven weeks. On August 27, 1963, it returned to the Morosco Theatre in New York for a brief revival (forty-seven performances). Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad was the first of Kopit’s plays to be published by a major house, Hill and Wang, and it has been performed in London, Paris, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Italy, Mexico, the Scandinavian countries, Turkey, and West Berlin.
Asylum: Or, What the Gentlemen Are Up To, Not to Mention the Ladies, was scheduled to open at the Off-Broadway Theatre de Lys in March, 1963, but after five preview performances, Kopit decided to cancel the production. The dramatist reports that the bill was actually composed of two one-act plays, Chamber Music and a companion piece that he intended to expand into a three-act play...
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