Lance Sherman Belville, playwright, theatre director, journalist, and teacher died
March 14, 2020 in his floating home in Sausalito in the embrace of his wife and
artistic partner of 42 years, Lynn Lohr. His more than 50 professionally produced
plays have had more than 100 productions in the US, Mexico, Brazil, and most
recently, London, including tours to 30 states.
Dramatic almost from his birth on June 19, 1935 in Winona, Minnesota to Lloyd and
Grace Belville, he didn’t learn to read until the third grade, accomplishing the feat
overnight so he could play the witch in a radio play. Whether starring on the tennis
court, or holding the highest office in Episcopalian youth circles, or leading his
junior high jazz band, Lance’s charisma and style were early in evidence.
After a summer with the Ringling Brothers Circus in its last season under canvas, he
attended the University of Southern California on a debate scholarship graduating
with a degree in Cinema. Belville’s world travel began with four years in the U.S.
Navy where he served in the Pacific Fleet and saw extended duty in Singapore,
Japan, and the Arctic, wrapping up his Public Information Officer duties in New York
He spent his first year out of the Navy reporting from Berlin and the nine years
following as a foreign correspondent in Rio de Janeiro for United Press International
and then the ABC network. 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 of the
military regime’s torture and repression. He spent almost a year in the Amazon on
second contact missions to indigenous tribes. In Brazil, he moonlighted as a
screenwriter and playwright, writing two screenplays for Brazilian producers.
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 the History Theatre, which under his 15 year tenure, acquired and
remodeled its current 500+ seat home of the Crawford Livingston Theatre in St. Paul
and gained its Equity designation.
His plays helped the History Theatre in its formative years win the Award of Merit,
“the highest award possible, ” from the American Association for State and Local
History for “re-creating episodes in Minnesota history through plays based on solid
research.” From the Twin Cities Drama Critics Circle, he received Kudos Awards for
“Best New Play,” for “Scott and Zelda, The Beautiful Fools,” and “Best Production” for
“Plain Hearts,” his collaboration with composer/lyricist Eric Peltoniemi. As co-
artistic director, he produced area premieres from Frank and Malachy McCourt,
Marie Jones, Frank McGuinness, and David Edgar and commissioned world
premieres from many local playwrights and composers.
While in St. Paul, Belville wrote two documentary films for late producer Slavko
Nowytski, one winning a Silver Medal Award from the New York International Film
Festival and the other a feature-length documentary narrated by Jack Palance. He
received playwriting commissions from General Mills, The American Red Cross,
Minnesota Literacy Campaign, St. Cloud State University and the Plymouth Music
Festival. Belville also led the process to create and produce community-written
history theatre plays in six U.S. communities and one in Brazil.
Since moving to the San Francisco Bay Area, his productions have included the
opera, “Queen Clara” for which he wrote the libretto, 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, Marin, Belville’s “Scott and Zelda, The Beautiful Fools” was chosen over 60
plays as the new work for their 89th season and 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 in May 2021.
His newest play, “The Cowboy and The Widow” including songs by composers Eric
Peltoniemi, Dolan Ellis, Robert Elhai, and Wayne Hamilton will premiere at the
Kansas City, Minnesota, and Indianapolis Fringe Festivals July-August, 2020. A
Portuguese translation of “Pope Joan,” is planned for a second production in Rio de
Janiero later in 2020.
Other awards include a playwriting fellowship from CBS; a Marin (CA) Arts Council
fellowship in playwriting, travel awards from the British Council and a visiting
artist’s grant from the Croatian National Theatre. He was twice a resident
playwright at the Blue Mountain Center, NY. The Minnesota Historical Society has
established an archive of Lance Belville’s plays and journalism collected throughout
his long career as a writer on three continents.
Belville also became a certified teacher of English as a Second Language, using
theatre techniques to inspire students in California, Brazil and Nicaragua.
His wife Lynn Lohr, his sister Lynne Cherry, 14 nieces and nephews, and 22 great-
nieces and nephews survive Belville. His parents and his brother, Kirk, preceded
him in death. Memorial services will be held in Marin in the early summer and in
Minnesota in August.
In remembrance, please contribute to any theatre that puts new plays by living
playwrights on its main stage, or the Lance Belville Fund for New Play Development
at History Theatre in St. Paul. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
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