Breen, Robert S.
Professor Robert S. Breen was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on September 30, 1909. He received a bachelor of Science in Speech, majoring in study of the theatre, in 1933, and a Master of Arts in Theatre in 1937, both from Northwestern University. He received a Ph.D. in Interpretation from Northwestern University's School of Speech in 1950. He served as an instructor at Knox College (1935-36), and Lafayette College (1940-41), and in the U.S. Army (1941-45) before joining the faculty of the Northwestern University School of Speech's Department of Interpretation in 1947 as an instructor. He was promoted to Assistant Professor of Interpretation in 1951, to Associate Professor in 1956, and to full professor in 1965. He retired with emeritus status in 1978.
Professor Breen's distinguished academic career included his originating and refining the concept of Chamber Theatre, first introduced by him to his interpretation classes at Northwestern in 1947. Chamber Theatre, now widely known and used, permitted the dramatic presentation of fiction and non-fiction without the artificial elimination of the narrator which more traditional dramatizations required. In Chamber Theatre, the narrator is presented as one of the players, whose role in the prose work is examined through the performance. Readers' Theatre, the ensemble presentation of dramatic literature, were also a research and performance interest of Professor Breen.
Professor Breen published widely. Among his published works are Literature as Experience, with Wallace Bacon (McGraw-Hill, 1959), Literature for Interpretation, for which he served as co-editor with Wallace Bacon (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1961), and his seminal text Chamber Theatre (Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1978).
Professor Breen appeared on Broadway and performed on television and directed television productions. He appeared as a panelist on Bergen Evans' WGN-TV program “Down You Go” (1951-54, 1961-62). He was himself responsible for producing an NBC-TV summer series, “Short Story Playhouse”, which made use of Chamber theatre techniques in 1951.
Professor Breen was long active in the Speech Communication Association, serving as president of the Interpretation Division of this professional organization in 1963. His students have included many distinguished performers and academicians, among whom are Robert Benedetti, John C. Edwards, Gerald Freedman, and Frank Galati. He married the former Gertrude Bader in 1935. They had two children, Katherine (b. 1948) and Kevin (b. 1951).