September 24, 2015


SUBJECT:    Celebration of Life for Professor, Founding Chair, and Benefactor of the Department of Theatre and Dance, Arthur Wagner

It is with profound sadness that we confirm the passing of Arthur Wagner, beloved colleague, educator and benefactor at UC San Diego. Arthur died at his San Diego home, Monday, September 21. He was 92.

A celebration of Arthur's life is being planned for October 12, 4:00 p.m., at the Mandell Weiss Theatre, with reception to follow at the Molli and Arthur Wagner Dance Building.

Arthur joined the "Department of Drama," as its founding chair in 1972. Under his guidance, the department grew from an undergraduate program with a dozen students to the Department of Theatre and Dance, one of the top three graduate theater training programs in the nation. While he formally retired from the faculty in 1991, Arthur remained deeply involved with the campus, teaching and mentoring students, attending faculty meetings, and providing guidance and support for the arts at UC San Diego.

Arthur and his wife, Molli, showed great generosity in enhancing the vision of UC San Diego's Division of Arts and Humanities with charitable gifts. In 2012, the couple established the Theatre and Dance Student Productions Endowment with a lead gift of $2.2 million. The Wagners also served as co-chairs of the student production fundraising initiative which seeks to provide continued funding for student productions, despite state budget cuts. The couple contributed to the Molli and Arthur Wagner Dance Building, the Arthur Wagner Theatre, the Wagner Endowed Graduate Acting Fellowship and the Arthur and Molli Wagner Endowed Chair in Acting-the only one of its kind in the nation. In recognition of the Wagners' generosity, the campus also renamed the Wagner New Play Festival in their honor.

Together with Molli, Arthur Wagner also supported ArtPower!, scholarships and The Preuss School UCSD. He was a member of the UC San Diego Chancellor's Associates and Friends of the Stuart Collection. Wagner also served on the board of trustees of the La Jolla Playhouse from 2001 until his death. He also was a member of Actors' Equity Association.

Arthur Wagner was born in New York City on May 11, 1923. He earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy from Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., in 1946 and a master's degree in theater arts from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. Wagner served as supervisor of dramatic activities at the Jewish Community Center in Springfield, Massachusetts, from 1948 to 1949, and as artistic director at the Springfield Civic Theatre from 1949 to 1950. He went on to study with the famed actor Paul Mann at the Actors Workshop in New York City from 1953 to 1955. Wagner was named head of the theatre arts department and director of the Annie Russell Theatre at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, in 1956 and held the position for nine years while earning his doctorate in drama from Stanford University in 1962.

From 1965 to 1967 he served as professor of drama at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he established the Graduate Actor Training Program. He spent two years as a professor and director of graduate and undergraduate actor training programs at Ohio University before moving to Temple University in Philadelphia. After serving for three years as professor of drama and director of the Graduate Actor Training Program at Temple University, Wagner joined the UC San Diego faculty in 1972.

Arthur Wagner is survived by his wife of 59 years, Molli; their son, Wayne Wagner; daughter-in-law, Mary Kies Wagner and granddaughter Kendra Wagner.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests contributions in his memory be made to the Theatre and Dance Student Productions Endowment, which was established by the Wagners to ensure that "the show goes on" for UC San Diego students. Donations can be made online by visiting and clicking "Give Now." Checks can also be made payable to the UC San Diego Foundation in Wagner's honor, with "Theatre & Dance Student Productions Endowment (4640)" in the memo, and mailed to 9500 Gilman Drive, #0940, La Jolla, CA 92093-0940.

Cristina Della Coletta
Dean, Division of Arts and Humanities

Jim Carmody
Professor and Chair,
Department of Theatre and Dance