Davi Napoleon

Davi Napoleon, also known as Davida Skurnick and Davida Napoleon (born 1946) is an American theater historian and critic. She is a regular contributor to Live Design,[1] a monthly magazine about entertainment design and designers. She is an expert on the not-for-profit theater in America and author of Chelsea on the Edge: The Adventures of an American Theater. She has written on social and political issues occasionally as well. She has taught at Albion College and at Eastern Michigan University. She lives in Ann Arbor, MI, and is married to Greg Napoleon, a software engineer. They have two sons, Brian Napoleon and Randy Napoleon, who is a noted jazz musician, and two grandchildren.


She was born in New York City to Jack Skurnick, a musicologist, and Fay Kleinman, a painter, and was educated at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where she earned a BA in psychology while studying playwriting with Kenneth Thorpe Rowe, then did a master's degree at Michigan in early childhood education.[2][3] She went on to New York University,[4] and graduated with an MA in drama and a Ph.D. in performance studies.

She wrote a column about theater education called Schoolbiz for four years for TheaterWeek magazine and has been a contributing editor for Theater Crafts, which became Theatre Crafts International, then Entertainment Design, then Live Design. She has also written for American Theatre, American Film, InTheatre, Playbill, ScriptWriter News, Stages and assorted general interest magazines. These include children's magazines, teen magazines Seventeen and others, and a range of general magazines, such as New York magazine and Weight Watchers. She was a stringer for the Detroit Free Press and for the Ann Arbor News in the 1980s. She was the theater reviewer for the Ann Arbor News from 1987 to 1988 and wrote a theatre column for The Faster Times, which was an online newspaper published by Sam Apple.

In the summer of 1977, Napoleon honed her critical skills at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center's National Critics Institute in Waterford, CT, which she attended on a National Endowment for the Arts grant.[5]

Napoleon has written extensively about the history and issues surrounding the not-for-profit theater in America. Her book about Robert Kalfin and the Chelsea Theater Center is an in-depth history of the life of a theater in the 1960s and 1970s. Chelsea on the Edge: The Adventures of an American Theater (1991) describes on- and off-stage dramas, detailing internal conflicts when a theater that was the darling of critics and audiences was forced to downsize because of changes in funding to the arts. Hal Prince wrote the foreword to the book that found a readership among working artists both because it is one of the first complex studies of regional theater and because of its dramatic structure and narrative.[6][7]

She has also written many articles about producer/critic Robert Brustein and interviewed critic John Simon for The Paris Review.[8] This interview was cited in Simon's New York Times obituary. [9]

Napoleon taught at Albion College in Albion, MI, and Eastern Michigan University. She has directed plays at Albion College, Washtenaw Community College in Michigan, and at small theaters in Michigan and New York.[10]

Napoleon has written several plays, including Four's Company, produced at the Greenwich Mews Theatre in New York City in 1974.[11] She was awarded two University of Michigan Hopwood Awards in 1965 and 1966 for plays she wrote as an undergraduate. She later served as a judge for this creative writing contest.[12]


  1. Articles about entertainment design by Napoleon in Live Design.
  2. http://www.annarbor.com/entertainment/ypsi-based-artist-fay-kleinman-dead-at-99/
  3. http://umich.edu/search/?keywords=Davi+napoleon
  4. https://www.imdb.com/list/ls077502701/
  5. http://theoneill.org/summer-conferences/nci/alumni/
  6. Cambridge Guide to American Theater Edited by Don B. Wilmeth and Tice L. Miller, Cambridge University Press, 1993, pp. 105-6.
  7. Davi Napoleon, Chelsea on the Edge: The Adventures of an American Theater, Iowa State University Press, 1991.
  8. The Paris Review, Spring 1977, Issue 142, pp. 300-320.
  9. /obituary for John Simon, New York Times, November 25 2019
  10. "The Michigan Alumnus". 1999.
  11. Burns Mantle Theater Yearbook: The Best Plays of 1973-1974, edited by Otis L. Guernsey Jr. (Dodd, Mead). Some details on Napoleon's play, Four's Company, produced at the Greenwich Mews Theater.
  12. The Hopwood Awards: 75 Years of Prized Writing, Edited by Nicholas Delbanco, Andrea Beauchamp, and Michael Barrett; University of Michigan Press, 2006, p. 222. Napoleon is referenced under her maiden name, Davida Skurnick.
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