Isaiah Sheffer founded New York's Symphony Space, a complex of two theaters with a cafe and offices. He was its artistic director, and would remain so for 32 years.

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NEW YORK — Isaiah Sheffer, who three decades ago looked at a grimy, derelict movie theater on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and envisioned the palace of performing arts that became Symphony Space, a vibrant, eclectic institution known for its broadcasts of actors reading short stories, died Friday in Manhattan. He was 76.

The cause was complications of a stroke, his wife, Ethel, said.

After tens of millions of dollars raised and a decade of litigation, Symphony Space became a complex of two theaters with a cafe, offices and a board of directors. Mr. Sheffer was its artistic director, and would remain so for 32 years.

Symphony Space is also the home of a brainstorm by Mr. Sheffer called “Selected Shorts,” produced by WNYC for NPR, in which actors read stories for broadcast on more than 160 radio stations nationwide.

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Another of his ideas was “Bloomsday on Broadway,” an annual reading of James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” of which the 31st rendition occurred this June.

More than 100 actors and other notables take part in readings that last seven hours or more. Readers have included Stephen Colbert, Tony Roberts and Marian Seldes. Mr. Sheffer would add music and touches like the clatter of ale bottles behind the voices.

Besides his wife, the former Ethel Shatunoff, Mr. Sheffer is survived by a daughter, Susannah Sheffer; and a sister, Barbara Brook.

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