Obituary for Michael Moerman
December 6, 1934 – August 22, 2020
Michael Moerman, a long-standing member of the Nevada City theatre community, died at the age of 85, on August 22, 2020, in San Francisco. Moerman was born to a Jewish family in the Bronx in 1934; his grandparents had immigrated from Russia. He later credited his childhood in a multicultural immigrant neighborhood for inspiring him to become an anthropologist. He received his BA with Distinction from Columbia College in 1956, and his PhD in Anthropology from Yale University in 1964. He then had a long career as a Professor of Anthropology at UCLA (1964–93). In his early career he specialized in the culture of the Thai-Lue minority in Northern Thailand, and lived in Thailand for six years. His work included “Agricultural Change and Peasant Choice in a Thai Village” (1968), and numerous articles on Thai and Thai-Lue agriculture, rituals, kinship, and ethnicity. Later in his career he became an expert in socio-linguistics, uniting the fields of ethnography with conversation analysis, and published the seminal work “Talking Culture” (1988); his book received numerous honors, and was esteemed as “the first attempt by an ethnographer to apply tools of conversation analysis to conversational data from a non-Western language and culture in a monograph length work” (Niko Besnier, 1990 book review). He also taught courses in ethnographic film at the UCLA film school.
After retirement, Moerman pursued a new career in acting and dramaturgy: from 1994–2019 he performed in countless theatrical productions throughout California. He moved to Nevada City in 2000 to work with the Foothill Theatre Company. His favorite roles included Leonato in “Much Ado About Nothing” (Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival), Morrie in “Tuesdays with Morrie” (Quest Theatre Works), and Charley in “Death of a Salesman” (Sierra Stages). He served as Assistant Director for “The White Snake” (CATS), and worked as a dramaturg for Foothill Theatre Company, Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, CATS, and Sierra Stages. He also performed frequently in the San Francisco Bay Area, where his favorite roles included Frank in “Over the River and Through the Woods” (Center Rep; for this role he received a Bay Area award for Supporting Actor), Big Daddy in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (Boxcar Theatre), and Mentor in an outdoor production of “The Odyssey” on Angel Island (We Players). His final project was performing poetry for Voetica in Berkeley.
Moerman was also an accomplished amateur ceramicist; he studied ceramics in Kyoto, San Diego, and in Nevada City at As If Studio and Rene Spratling Studio. He specialized in whimsical garden sculptures and dinnerware, inspired by Japanese aesthetics and the natural world. He was a devoted student and practitioner of Zen Buddhism and meditation for most of his life. He was known for his intense charisma, gregarious wit, and ability to instantly charm a room of strangers in any corner of the world, even in languages he barely knew. He is survived by his wife, Patricia Miller; his sister, Sharon Grodner; three children, Maxine Moerman, Max Moerman, and Ben Moerman; two stepchildren, Erik Painter and Kirsten Painter; and seven grandchildren.
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