Charles Lyons received his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees from Stanford University. After four years of service in the Navy and posts at Pricipia College and the University of California, Berkeley, he returned to Stanford as the chair of the Drama department in 1973, a post he held through 1988 and then again from 1995 until his death in 1999.
Lyons created the PhD program in directing/criticism and history of design. He shaped the education of doctoral students in the Drama department with a curriculum based on the “scholar-director” balance—pairing practical and theoretical knowledge to produce well-rounded, knowledgeable, and influential figures in the field of theater. He taught courses for undergraduates as well as graduates in both the English and Drama departments, including freshman seminars as well as courses as part of IHUM’s previous incarnations. He directed memorable productions on campus and was a renowned scholar on dramatic literature.
In 1996, he extended an invitation to Stanford Dance to become a part of the Drama department—which up until then had resided in Athletics—giving the program academic legitimacy and the capacity to grant a minor. Throughout his career, he became increasingly interested in the issue of diversity in the arts, and proposed an Institute on Arts and Diversity to be funded by the James Irvine Foundation. Lyons was set to serve as the director of the new institute, now the Institute for Diversity in the Arts (IDA).