Robert Schenkkan was born in Chapel Hill, N. Carolina in 1953, the third of four sons to Bob Schenkkan, Sr. and Jean McKenzie. He grew up in Austin, Texas, graduated from Stephen F. Austin High School in 1971, and entered the University of Texas that Fall as a double major in Plan II Honors and in the Department of Drama, Fine Arts. He graduated in 1975 with a B.A. in Drama and was selected by his peers as “Best Actor.” He graduated Phi Beta Kappa, Magna Cum Laude, and was inducted into the Friars' Society, one of the first Drama students to be so chosen.
From 1975-1977, Robert attended Cornell University on a full-scholarship and graduated with an M.F.A in Theater/Acting. He then moved to New York where he began his career appearing on Broadway (GR POINT), off-Bway, (THE FOREIGNER), at iconic NYC theater institutions such as the Public Theater, Manhattan Theater, etc. as well as Regional Theaters across the country. He also did considerable work as an actor in Film (PUMP UP THE VOLUME) and Television (STAR TREK, ACT OF VENGEANCE, etc).
He wrote his first play, Final Passages, in 1979. This play received its world premiere production at the Arena Theater under the direction of A.J. Antoon, and was quickly optioned for Broadway. It also brought Robert to the attention of noted theatrical agent, Helen Merrill, and gained him entry into New Dramatists and the Ensemble Studio Theater.
Robert wrote two other plays, Heaven on Earth and Tachinoki and a handful of one-acts published as Conversations with the Spanish Lady before he wrote The Kentucky Cycle. This ambitious epic, spanning two hundred years of history in Eastern Kentucky and running six hours brought him national attention. Time Magazine declared that the play, “Aspires to nothing less than the history of the United States. It strives for mythic power – and achieves it.” In Los Angeles, the play won the LA Drama Critics Award and the Penn West Award and Robert would be honored by separate declarations by the City of Los Angeles and the State of California. The play won the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Theater, shattering 75 years of Pulitzer tradition as it became the first play to win before it received a NY production.
The Kentucky Cycle went on to Broadway where it was nominated for Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics, and Drama League Award. That same year, the University of Texas honored Robert with the Distinguished Young Alumnus Award. With the success of The Kentucky Cycle Robert moved his young family to Seattle, stopped acting, and devoted himself to writing full time.
Over the next 25 years, Robert would write and publish ten other full-length plays: Building the Wall, Hanussen, Shadowplay, Handler, By the Waters of Babylon, Lewis and Clark Reach the Euphrates, The Marriage of Miss Hollywood and King Neptune; The Dream Thief; A Single Shard; and The Devil And Daniel Webster. Simultaneously, he became one of Hollywood’s most in-demand writers working with Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Oliver Stone, Robert Redford, Kevin Costner, Denzel Washington, and others. He co-authored the films, Hacksaw Ridge (6 Academy Award Nominations) and The Quiet American. For television he wrote the movie, Crazy Horse, and the mini-series, Spartacus, and The Andromeda Strain (six Emmy Nominations). In 2010 he wrote four episodes of the acclaimed HBO miniseries, The Pacific, and received two Emmy nominations and a Writers Guild Award for his work.
Capping a long history of fruitful collaboration with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Robert was the first playwright they commissioned for their epic “American Revolutions Project.” In 2012, his play about President Lyndon Baines Johnson and his first term in office, All The Way, had its world premiere in Ashland. The play was an astounding critical and popular success and was quickly optioned for Broadway. A subsequent production headed by the five-time Emmy award winning actor, Bryan Cranston, enjoyed a sold-out run in Boston at the A.R.T. Theater where it won the inaugural Senator Edward Kennedy Prize for Theater inspired by History Award, and the Steinberg/American Theater Critics Award for Best Play. It opened on Broadway, March 6, 2014 at the Neil Simon Theater and broke two box office records. The play swept the awards that year winning the Tony Award for Best Play, the Drama Critics, Drama League, and Outer Critics Circle Award. It also entered the national political conversation and refocused long-overdue attention on President Johnson’s civil rights achievements. Robert has appeared on numerous panels to discuss LBJ, politics, and civil rights and was the 2013 Harry Middleton Lecturer at the LBJ Presidential Library.
Robert adapted All The Way as a movie for HBO and Co-Executive Produced with Steven Spielberg and Bryan Cranston, and it was nominated for eight Emmy Awards, including Best Drama.
The Great Society, the theatrical sequel to All The Way, was commissioned by the Seattle Repertory Theater and had its premiere at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2014, before going on to Seattle where for the first time the two plays were performed in rotating repertory. In both cities, The Great Society sold out the entire run and broke long-standing box office records. The Great Society opened at Lincoln Center on September 7th, starring Brian Cox, Richard Thomas, Grant Coleman, and Marc Kudisch.
In 2016, during one of the most dispiriting Presidential campaigns in recent memory, Robert wrote Building the Wall in what he described as "a white hot fury" in the space of one week. This play, a cri de coeur for the importance of individual conscience during times of political crisis has had over fifty domestic productions within the first year alone, as well as productions in Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, the UK, and Austria.
On June 24, 2019, the world premier of Robert's edited version of The Mueller Report, "The Investigation: A Search for Truth in Ten Acts" was presented in a live reading at New York City's Riverside Church The cast included John LIthgow, Kevin Kline, Joel Grey, Jason Alexander, Alfre Woodard, Annette Bening, Mark Hamill, Wilson Cruz, Justin Long, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Ayssa Milano, Ben McKenzie, Piper Perabo, Zachary Quinto, Michael Shannon, and Sigourney Weaver. The production was viewed over three million times. Afterwards, the script of The Investigation was made available for free and has been downloaded over 13,000 times, and has produced all over the country in countless readings and performance.
Robert is currently writing play commissions for The Public Theater in NYC, the A.R.T. theater and Harvard Center for the Environment, and the Geffen Theater in LA. His musical, The Twelve, (book/lyrics; music and lyrics by Neil Berg) had its world premiere at the Denver Theater Center where it won the Henry Award for Best New Musical. It is currently directed by John Doyle and expected to reach Broadway in the 22/23 season.
Current films in development include: By The Waters of Babylon, directed by Diane Paragus; The Last Flier, starring Jake Gyllenhaal (Amazon); Union, starring Joseph Gordon-Levison (Amazon), The Project, produced by Robert Redford, based on Jennet Conant’s best-selling book, 109 East Palace; Friday Night Lights, directed by the Dowdle Brothers (Imagine); Fall of Saigon, directed by Ericson Core and produced by Barry Josephson; and Cascade, an original screenplay, which he co-authored with his son, Joshua Schenkkan.
For Television, he is creating a new series, American Babylon, about the origins of Las Vegas for Showtime, with producers Dick Wolf and Debra Chase; and a limited series adaptation of the Holocaust memoir, For Those I Loved, for Hideaway Productions.
Robert has been in residence at The MacDowell Colony (Thornton Wilder Fellow), The Orchard Project, Sundance, The O’Neil Center, Seven Devils, The Gathering at Big Fork, and New Harmony. He is a member of the Dramatists Guild, WGA, SAG, AEA, PEN America, the Ensemble Studio Theatre, and is an alumnus of New Dramatists. He has served on the National Council of the Dramatists Guild for many years where he is focused on gender parity in the American Theater. He is president of the Board for The Orchard Project, and a member of the Board for The Lily's.