Lance Belville Exits Stage Left

Lance on the deck of his West Pier home | photo and post by Lynn Lohr

Lance Sherman Belville, playwright, theatre director, and journalist died of congestive heart failure March 14, 2020 in his West Pier floating home in Sausalito in the embrace of his wife and artistic partner, Lynn Lohr.

Belville always lived somewhere dramatic, from the Mississippi River town of his birth, Winona, to Olvera Street in Los Angeles, while getting a degree in Cinema from USC, to a Rio de Janeiro penthouse while a foreign correspondent, to a Soho loft in his off-off-Broadway days, or the oldest brick house (1853) in St. Paul, the city where Lynn and he founded and grew the History Theater, now in its 42nd season. He loved Sausalito best, delighting this last six months especially in his 180-degree view of water and birds while charming the incomparable nurses and aides of The Hospice by the Bay.

Belville’s more than 50 professionally produced plays have had over 100 productions in the US, Mexico, Brazil, and most recently, London, including tours to 30 states.

A Public Information Officer in the US Navy, serving in the Pacific Fleet, the Arctic, and New York City, Belville began his first career, journalism, in Berlin. Moving to South America, he was hired on the eve of the military takeover in Brazil by UPI because of his fluent Portuguese and went on to break stories for ABC of the military regime’s torture and repression. He spent almost a year in the Amazon on second contact missions to indigenous tribes.

Belville returned to New York to pursue a career as a playwright and saw five plays produced Off- and Off-Off Broadway and in Boston. Moving to Minnesota in 1977, he was an early resident member of the Playwrights Center, winning a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in playwriting.

Belville became founding Playwright-In-Residence and eventually Co-Artistic Director of Minnesota’s History Theatre, which under his 15-year tenure, acquired and remodeled its current 500+ seat home.  His plays earned “Kudos Awards” from the Twin Cities Drama Critics Circle and the Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History.

Belville wrote documentary films, one winning a Silver Medal Award from the New York International Film Festival, with another narrated by Jack Palance.

Since moving to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1994, his productions have included the opera, “Queen Clara,” two Fringe Festival hits, “Qaddafi’s Cook,” (New York City, San Diego, Hollywood) and “Atlanta Burning, Sherman’s Shadows” (Kansas City, Minnesota, Indianapolis). For Ross Valley Players in Marin, Belville’s “Scott and Zelda, The Beautiful Fools” played to a sold-out run in 2019.

A remounting of “Qaddafi’s Cook” was chosen for a special Latin American Season at the Actors Centre in the West End in London playing at the end of January 2020 and will be part of the San Francisco International Arts Festival now rescheduled for May 2021.

His newest play, “The Cowboy and The Widow,” written after his release from the hospital in October, will premiere at the Kansas City, Minnesota, and Indianapolis Fringe Festivals July-August, 2020.

The Minnesota Historical Society in 2005 established an archive of Lance Belville’s plays and journalism collected throughout his long career as a writer on three continents.

An anonymous donor launched the Lance Belville Fund for New Play Development in early March at the theatre he cofounded and led. To contribute, please contact Doug Tiede by phone  or email.

A memorial service will be held in Marin in early summer and in Minnesota in August. A complete obituary is available online.