William Ball (1931-1991) founded the American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) in 1965 and was its general director for many years. Beginning in the theater as a designer, he turned to acting and appeared with regional companies and Shakespeare festivals across the country. He made his New York directorial debut with an Off-Broadway production of Chekhov’s Ivanov which won the Obie and Vernon Rice Drama Desk Awards for 1958. He subsequently directed at Houston’s Alley Theatre; San Francisco’s Actor’s Workshop; Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage; San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre; and staged several New York City Opera productions. His 1959 Off-Broadway production of Under Milk Wood won both the Lola D’Annunzio and the Outer Circle Critics’ Awards, and in 1962 his Six Characters in Search of an Author proved another multiple award winner and had an extended New York run. After directing at Canada’s Stratford Festival, Ball returned to New York to write the libretto, with composer Lee Hoiby for an opera, Natalya Petrovna, based on A Month in the Country. In 1964 he directed Tartuffe and Homage to Shakespeare at Lincoln Center and then traveled to London to recreate his staging of Six Characters.
A native of New Rochelle and a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, Ball has been the recipient of a Fulbright scholarship, a Ford Foundation directorial grant, and an NBC RCA director’s fellowship. Of his many productions for A.C.T., three were also directed for PBS television, including The Taming of the Shrew, for which he was nominated by the Television Critics’ Circle as best director of the year. In June 1979, he accepted the Antoinette Perry (“Tony”) Award voted to A.C.T. for its outstanding work in repertory performance and advanced theater training. In the same year, Carnegie Mellon University presented him with an honorary degree as Doctor of Fine Arts. He was active as a teacher and director in A.C.T.’s conservatory training program.