Detroit Repertory Theatre co-founder Barbara Busby has died

Busby recently retired after 64 years, was known for inclusive casting policy

click to enlarge Busby remained dedicated to the theatre for 64 years until 2021, when she retired at 88 years old. - Detroit Repertory Theatre
Detroit Repertory Theatre
Busby remained dedicated to the theatre for 64 years until 2021, when she retired at 88 years old.
Detroit Repertory Theatre co-founder Barbara Busby died on Tuesday, Aug. 16, the company announced Monday.

The Detroit Rep has been a staple in the city’s theatre community since Busby and a small group of radical artists started it in 1957. Busby remained dedicated to the theatre for 64 years until 2021, when she retired at 88 years old.

"She was our Fiscal Officer, managed the office and all of our outreach programs. She was the woman who gave you your tickets when you came to the theatre and served you drinks during intermission,” the company’s announcement read. “... She has been called the ‘Mother of the Rep.’ Barbara's wishes were that those who knew her and loved her would celebrate her and her love of theatre, music, art and performance.”

A cause of death could not be confirmed, but a Detroit Repertory Theatre public relations manager said Busby “died peacefully in her sleep.”

Busby and co-founder Bruce Millan were known for their inclusive casting policy, which meant casting the best actor for the role regardless of their skin color. This often saw Black actors playing traditionally white characters, garnering praise and criticism for the theatre.

The pair received several awards for their dedication to diversity and community service from the Kennedy Center for the Arts in Washington D.C., Interfaith Leadership Council of Southeast Michigan, Michigan Coalition for Human Rights, Detroit Free Press, and beyond.

Busby directed more than 50 productions at the Rep and acted in more than 65 plays.

A celebration of her life and legacy is planned from 6-9 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 19 at the Detroit Rep. In lieu of flowers, according to the theatre, Busby requested that donations be made to the Detroit Rep or the Michigan Humane Society.

The Detroit Repertory Theatre is located at 13103 Woodrow Wilson St., Detroit; detroitreptheatre.com.

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About The Author

Randiah Camille Green

After living in Japan and traveling across Asia, Randiah Camille Green realized Detroit will always be home. And when she says Detroit, she's talking about the hood, not the suburbs. She has bylines in Planet Detroit News , Bridge Detroit , BLAC magazine, and Model D . Her favorite pastimes are meditating...
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