A Passionate Patron: Remembering Frank Lossy
Wednesday, July 8, 2020
Posted by: Rotimi Agabiaka
by Sam Hurwitt
Doctor Frank Lossy, who died on May 11 at the age of 96, was a forensic psychoanalyst and psychiatrist with a long practice in Berkeley. He was also a great longtime supporter of Bay Area theatre, primarily through the Rella Lossy Award, established in 1999 to fund the world premiere of a new play by an emerging playwright at a Bay Area theatre.
Lossy was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1924, the same year he and his parents emigrated to the United States and moved to Chicago. In the 1960s, he became active in the Civil Rights Movement.
“He was down in Bogalusa [Louisiana] in the sixties as a doctor at a lot of the protests, because people needed doctors on hand, and he was smuggled out in the back of a car under blankets because the sheriff wanted to see him,” says son Cecil David Lossy, an event producer, musician and documentary filmmaker based in Berkeley. Cecil is one of Lossy’s two children, along with daughter Panna Lossy, a medical doctor in the North Bay.
Rella and Frank Lossy. Photo courtesy of Cecil David Lossy.
Frank Lossy started the Rella Lossy Award in honor of his late wife, who died in 1996 at age 61. Rella Lossy had been the theatre editor of Bay Area Arts Review and a founding member of the Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, but also an aspiring poet and playwright.
“She was in a group called the Elizabethan Trio, which was a harpsichordist, a soprano, and my mother reading Shakespeare sonnets,” Cecil says. “She wrote a book of poems in the sixties and she tried to get it published and she couldn't. And so my dad became her champion and tried to get it published really hard and he couldn't, so he ended up publishing it for her. When she died, he wanted to keep her memory alive, and he thought the best way he could do that is by helping poets and playwrights get their pieces published and put into theatres.”
“He really got a sense, I think, from her and her experience, how difficult it really is for playwrights to get to a point where they are beyond emerging and where they do get a chance to be seen and be known and begin to launch a career,” reflects Theatre Bay Area executive director Brad Erickson.
Initially based at San Francisco State University, the award at first alternated between plays and books of poetry but was soon narrowed down to playwriting.
After some years supporting premieres at SFSU, the Rella Lossy Award moved to San Francisco’s Magic Theatre for a few years and then to the San Francisco Foundation before coming under the stewardship of Theatre Bay Area in 2017.
“His intent was to get more theatre companies involved and more potential playwrights involved in the winnowing process, so that an emerging playwright could be found who could hopefully use the award to further launch their career and use some of the money to help them and also potentially to help the world premiere,” Erickson says. “It's interesting because it's exactly sort of a bookend to the Will Glickman Award, which is for the best play to have premiered. And his thought was wanting to help it get the premiere in the first place.”
Plays that the award has supported include Diana Burbano’s Ghosts of Bogota with AlterTheater, Jonathan Spector’s Eureka Day at Aurora Theatre Company, Eugenie Chan’s self-produced Madame Ho, Jeff Augustin’s The Last Tiger in Haiti and KJ Sanchez’s X’s and O’s: A Football Love Story at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Rachel Bond’s Swimmers at Marin Theatre Company, Basil Kreimendahl’s Sidewinders with Cutting Ball, and Christopher Chen’s The Hundred Flowers Project with Crowded Fire Theater and Playwrights Foundation.
At the Magic, the award funded plays such as Theresa Rebeck’s What We’re Up Against and Lydia Stryck’s An Accident, and early awardees from the SF State years include Cherylene Lee’s Knock Off Balance, Lynne Kaufman’s Daisy in the Dreamtime and Christine Evans’s Slow Falling Bird.”
“Frank had such an incredible love for theatre and such a fierce intelligence that he always brought an incredible amount of inquiry and diligence to selecting and confirming the premiere that he would support,” says Loretta Greco, outgoing artistic director of Magic Theatre. “And he would always surprise me in the course of the process. He'd email a question or two that really showed how passionately he was paying attention to the work in a way that is quite rare.”
“He himself was an amazing character and he was clearly passionate about theatre,” Erickson attests. “He was passionate about writing. He had very firm ideas about how things ought to go. He was sort of a force of nature, and it was really delightful to get to know him. We talk about really passionate patrons, and he was one of them.”
Sam Hurwitt is a Bay Area arts journalist and playwright. Follow him at twitter.com/shurwitt.