USITT is saddened to share the passing of Ralph Pine, founder of Drama Book Publishers and Quite Specific Media Group.
Below is a remembrance from USITT Fellow Pat Mackay.
On to his Next Great Adventure: Ralph Pine 1939-2019
We’ve lost my best buddy: charmer, witty wordsmith, and playmate.
Bon vivant. Entertainer. Storyteller. Great chef. Hail Fellow Well Met.
He kept me laughing and in love for 45 years. What a blessing!
Here are a few remembrances of this extraordinary man’s impact on performing arts publishing and performing arts training.
Ralph Pine: Founder of Drama Book and Quite Specific Media Group Publishers and a transformative force in performing arts publishing and performing arts training.
Impactful and unforgettable. Many people of a certain age first encountered Ralph back in the 1960s in the Drama Book Shop when it was on the fifth floor of 150 West 52nd Street. It was there that he (and the co-owners of the Drama Book Shop, Al Collins and Arthur Seelen) hatched the plan to bring more and better performing arts books to their underserved market.
The perfect combination of fierce intellect and voracious curiosity wrapped in a larger-than-life personality of charm and kindness made Ralph Pine a dynamic and irrepressible force.
He loved nothing more than gathering authors, would-be authors, working professionals, and radical thinkers around a table and entertaining. His vast storehouse of tales would be littered with breadcrumbs that hinted at amazing experiences and wonderful adventures.
There were stories about his appearance as a teenage Beat Poet (accompanied by Thelonious Monk) on the CBS Walter Cronkite documentary series The Twentieth Century. Encounters with Allen Ginsberg and Larry Ferlinghetti. Odetta, Nina Simone, Kenneth Rexroth, Gregory Corso, and Pete Seeger would all show up in his tales of The Village in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Then there was the time he failed his conducting exam at Interlocken because he forgot to cue the strings and the college class in which Robert Frost ordered him to “say me a poem, Mr. Pine.” The night he wound up sleeping under Charlie Mingus’s piano was surely the result of evenings at the Half Note and the Village Vanguard.
Joanie Baez and sister Mimi Farina brought their guitars to a party in his Beacon Hill apartment. Pointing at the desk he inherited from press agent Bill Doll, he’d quip “You know that desk used to belong to Mike Todd? Sleeps three.” He confessed that a less-than-favorable Eliot Norton review in the Boston Globe was probably responsible for short-circuiting his desire to be a playwright and director.
A long night on the town with the rabble-rousing British publisher ended when John Calder said, “Let’s call Sam in Paris!” Finding Beckett on the other end of the line, Pine was speechless for probably the first and only time in his life.
His bib overalls of the 1960s gave way to a more refined sartorial style featuring bow ties, fabulously patterned suspenders, a double-breasted blazer, and chinos.
His radical and revolutionary days of publishing focused on eye-opening firsts and passion projects. Those subjects about which he cared deeply were frequently the first book published in what has become a wide-spread field of study. Those books charted a course ahead for both performing arts publishing and entertainment education.
How-to guides and texts for technical theatre and designers appeared in the DBS and QSM catalogs alongside long-running classics that transformed training, education, and professional practice. In 1969, a big gap in information about the business of the business was closed by the appearance of Producing on Broadway and its companion From Option to Opening. The four volumes of Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion are a staple on costume designer shelves, as are Costume Close-up and the Medieval Tailor series. Bill Ball’s A Sense of Direction is a classic. Stephen Langley’s Theatre Management in America (now revised by David Conte) opened up the whole new field of performing arts management studies. Every actor’s backpack used to contain one or more of the many volumes in the monologue series. Today, it’s more likely to be a copy of QSM’s indispensable Actions.
Under Ralph Pine’s visionary leadership, the first critical studies on many subjects appeared: Edward Albee’s work; Native American representation in Entertainment (The Only Good Indian is a Dead Indian); first analysis of people of color in the theatre (The Black Image 1770 to 1970); the first anthology of Gay Plays (Homosexual Acts); as well as a study covering 10 centuries of Women in Theatre; Compassion and Hope. Vocal and movement training was balanced by studies like Drama in Therapy. Hovey Burgess’s Circus Techniques launched yet another wave of performer training. That environmentally sensitive plea called Greening Our Houses was way ahead of its time when published in 1994.
Embedded in the world of Broadway, he was also intrigued by a few things that glittered with possible commercial success: The Fantasticks, Bye Bye Birdie, Hello Dolly, Pippin, Robber Bridegroom, On the Twentieth Century, Shadow Box, The Gin Game, and Evita. But his heart was in the experimental and new work. He loved his involvement with The Performing Garage, Mabou Mines, Robert Wilson, and Richard Foreman.
Being an under-capitalized, independent publisher was never easy. Then came the 2000s as the combination of the internet and Amazon brought disruption to the book publishing industry. Throughout it all, Ralph Pine’s focus was on finding new authors, with new specialties, and getting the information out there in the most cost-effective way possible. He believed QSM books had to be affordable for theatre students, people trying to break into the business, and for freelance professionals.
In 1999, Drama Book Publisher became Quite Specific Media Group and set up a number of imprints reflecting the company’s many areas of interest: Drama books, costume and fashion, and entertainment pro.
In 2013, Quite Specific Media joined forces with a similarly-aligned publishing company, Silman-James Press. QSM continues to develop book projects and Silman-James handles the business side of publishing. Most recent QSM projects include Annie Cleveland’s Digital Costume Design, Peter Lawrence’s Production Stage Management, and Clifton Taylor’s Color & Light.
Celebrating the publication of vocal training guru, educator, and author Kristin Linklater’s groundbreaking book Freeing the Natural Voice with friends and her new-born son, Hamish, Linklater recollects, “His taste as a publisher was impeccable. I owe him an enormous amount — that little blue book planted a seed that has grown to a big tree with ever-spreading branches.
Lighting designer, theatre consultant, producer, and author Richard Pilbow notes, “What a truly exceptional man he was. He had such depth and richness of character. Ralph has had an influence on my life for so long.”
Author, educator, and director Tom Marcus said, “Theatre disappears when the curtain comes down, but the books we write about theatre are how we tell the future about our past.”
Drama Book Publishing, Quite Specific Media Group, and Ralph Pine have been members of the Institute since the early ’70s and exhibitors at various Conferences (probably) beginning with the Waldorf Astoria event.
He is the publisher of many member’s works and projects over multiple decades.
He earned a BA from Emerson College. MA from UCLA where he and Bob Scales co-existed during the same years. He was a member of The Players Club and the Theatre Library Association.