Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Patricia Sternberg, drama therapist and friend of psychodrama, dies at 82

Patricia SternbergPatricia Sternberg died of acute respiratory failure in Hospice of Palm Beach County in Boynton Beach, Florida, on June 23 at the age of 82.

She played many roles her life, including drama therapist, friend of psychodrama and professor. She served on the faculty of the Theater Department at Hunter College in New York City from 1978-2005. she had previously taught in the Theater Department at Pennsylvania State University's Ogontz (now Abington) campus from 1971-1978.

She believed theater could heal. She wrote two basic textbooks in the field: Sociodrama: Who's in Your Shoes? with Antonina Garcia, a psychodramtist and drama therapist, and Theatre for Conflict Resolution: In the Classroom and Beyond

She wrote numerous plays for young audiences. While at Hunter College, the performances she directed were often the first theater experience for many of New York City’s public school children, an audience she cultivated through her commitment to public outreach.

Long before disability studies became known, she devoted her life to issues of accessibility in the performing arts.  Believing that theater was the route to achieving your full expressive potential, no matter the physical limitation, she gave acting classes for Hunter’s disabled students every semester as a voluntary overload.  She taught her colleagues to be disability-blind by example, as she cast students from those classes in the 27 productions she directed at Hunter.

She was the recipient of the 1998 Gertrud Schattner Award to recognize her distinguished contribution to the field of drama therapy in education, publication, practice, and service.

“The Theater Department mourns the loss of her generous loving spirit,” said Mira Felner, chair of the Hunter College Theater Department.

Born Patricia Sikes in Detroit, Mich., in 1930, she received her bachelor of arts degree from Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, in 1952. After college she moved to New York City where she studied acting with Lee Strasberg at the American Theater Wing. She  received her master's in arts degree from Villanova University in 1972.

In 1956 she married Richard Sternberg to whom she remained happily married for 53 years until his death in 2009. While raising their family in Riverdale, N.Y., in the 1960s, she founded the Riverdale Children's Theater, the Riverdale Teen Repertory Theater and the Riverdale Community Theater, which is believed to have been the only active community theater in New York City at that time.

“My three greatest productions are my children,” Ms. Sternberg told the Palm Beach Post in a 2006 interview.

A memorial service will take place in Fall 2013 in New York City. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in Patricia Sternberg's name to: The Drama Therapy Fund, 1626 Leavenworth St., Manhattan, KS 66502.

See more of her obituary in The Philadelphia Inquirer.