From the Alumni Office:
Curtain Up! Light the Lights!
Great Theater at (and Beyond) the Heights
If you’ve been to Siena recently, you know the arts are alive and well. At this year’s Homecoming, you heard lots of music (marching band at halftime, Acapelicans at Alumni Awards, choir at Mass) and saw lots of art (John Wittersheim and Lois DeMots retrospectives in Studio Angelico, alumni art in McLaughlin, six alumni sculptures in the new Wittersheim Memorial Sculpture Park). And there’s a good chance you were humming “Day by Day” from the Theater Siena production of Godspell directed by theater program chair Doug Miller ’74. All of the arts are vital to the life and legacy of Siena Heights—enough so that Joni Warner ’83 now works officially connecting our campus with the Lenawee community through the arts.
Today, I’d like to spotlight Siena’s theater program.
For the past decade, one of our most popular alumni events (outside of Homecoming) has been the annual spring Dinner & Theater gathering. About 100 people come to campus—from as far as Detroit, Lansing, Battle Creek and many parts of Ohio—for dinner and the final production of the Theater Siena season. Some people come every year and it’s not uncommon to hear things like “Wow, I saw this once in Boston/New York/Toledo—but this was better!”
That sentiment was definitely buzzing around the Croswell Opera House in Adrian this past summer, when Siena’s Mark DiPietro ’83 directed a full-scale production of Les Miserables with a cast and crew almost half made up of Siena Heights alumni, students and faculty. “We had 300+ people audition,” said DiPietro, chair of SHU’s Fine and Performing Arts division. “They came out of the woodwork for the chance to be in the full, adult version of the show.”
Even at the Croswell, “it was tremendously difficult to mount such a massive show,” DiPietro said, “but it was the perfect blending of great acting talent, great backstage talent, great front-of-house talent.” Jere Righter ’93, artistic director at the Croswell, “had the vision to bring the show to Adrian—and then hire two professionals,” DiPietro said, referring to Siena alumni Eric Parker ’92 (left, who played Jean Valjean) and Michael Lackey ’77 (Inspector Javert), both Equity actors who have performed throughout the country.
Reviewers and audience members agreed: The results were stunning.
“We had a whole chorus of lead singers,” Lackey said, in response to a comment on the quality of vocals throughout the show. “Many in the ensemble can and have sung lead roles,” he said—and many of those performances were in Francoeur Theater at Siena Heights.
The impact of SHU theater extends beyond Adrian and beyond southeast Michigan. “Our name is known at top graduate programs around the country,” DiPietro noted. “We just had our fourth student in the past several years accepted at The Actors Studio in New York. And it’s not just actors who are going places. Our technical theater graduates are sought after.”
To support both theater and music at Siena, the University is planning a major addition to the Performing Arts Center, including a new theater, renovation of Francoeur as a dedicated music performance space, and addition of a band wing and up-to-date scene shop. The project, though still on the horizon, has generated lots of interest.
To see what all the excitement is about, join us for this spring’s Dinner & Theater event on March 28, featuring the musical Chicago. Get your tickets early though. These events sell out!
Jennifer A. Hamlin Church
Associate VP for Advancement & Director of Alumni Relations