Stars Come Out for A Midsummer Celebration of Hartke's 30th Anniversary

Before the curtain rose on CUA's latest presentation of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, performers from the drama department's days past were taking their places on another stage.

DREAM REUNION: CUA's latest staging of A Midsummer Night's Dream was attended by Eric Pierpoint, M.F.A. 1980, who played Theseus in a 1979 production of the play. Edna Clark, M.F.A. 1961, played Hippolyta in a 1959 production of Shakespeare's classic.

Upstairs in the Hartke Theatre lobby, more than 100 Catholic University drama alumni gathered with old friends Feb. 15 to celebrate the theater's prestigious 30-year history and to share memories of a place that became more than a playhouse or a proving ground, but a second home. Students and friends of the drama department joined the alumni and department Chair Gitta Honegger for the gala reception, which was attended by the likes of stage luminaries Philip Bosco, B.A. 1957, Halo Wines, M.A. 1964, and William H. Graham Sr., M.A. 1954.

Though he could not be present at the event, the Very Rev. David M. O'Connell, C.M., President, sent a letter read by Mr. Bosco, a Tony award-winning actor and well-known screen performer: "Hartke Theatre in its 30th year is still the place to come for theater in Washington ... May God bless each of you for your continued support of the arts."

"It's not the building that counts, but what happened here ... to those who came before you and to those who came after you," Mr. Graham said in his remarks to the group. "Hundreds of people forged deep friendships and experienced what are now cherished memories," he said.

William H. Graham Sr. accepts an honorary Gilbey Award — CUA's version of the Tony Award.

Mr. Graham, a former professor and chairman of the Department of Drama, was presented with an honorary Gilbey Award — CUA's version of the Tony Award — at the reception. He has been active in the Olney Theatre for the Performing Arts, in Olney, Md., over the years, and is the 2000 recipient of the Alumni Association's highest honor, the James Cardinal Gibbons Medal. Proceeds from the gala benefited the William H. Graham Young Artists Fund.

As the honorary chair of Hartke's Anniversary Committee, Mr. Graham expressed his appreciation to all those who came from far and wide for the occasion.

Hartke Theatre — a name practically synonymous with highly acclaimed dramatic performances — is named for CUA drama department founder, the late Rev. Gilbert V. Hartke, O.P., M.A. 1939. The building opened to the public in November 1970, and has been drawing crowds ever since.

Ann Norton, B.A. 1975, executive director of the Washington Stage Guild and president of the League of Washington Theatres, was a high school senior when Hartke opened its doors in 1970. Though she wasn't a CUA student yet, Ms. Norton attended the dedication ceremony for the building that she would spend a great deal of time in throughout the next four years. "I had just been accepted, and was on campus that day attending a Saturday morning class for high school students," she recollected to a group of friends at the reception. "I decided to go to the dedication, but there were no seats in the theater, [they hadn't been installed yet]. We all had to sit on the steps."

Ms. Norton also recounted how a drama education introduced her to the business of acting: "Acting in a three-week play was a lot like work," she said. "It quickly taught those who thought being in a play was just fun, that this was serious, and many changed majors after their first semester. It gave me the working habits of my career, where I spend not three weeks, but 52 at a theater."

Thirty years later, CUA drama students are working as hard as their predecessors to carry forth the Hartke legacy. The evening's highlight, the opening night performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream, was a success. Director Kamyar Atabai's contemporary production of Shakespeare's romantic comedy used a modern British art gallery as the setting.

Based out of New York, Mr. Atabai has directed and adapted numerous works, and recently assisted Julie Taymor on the Broadway productions of The Green Bird and Juan Darien. This production was his first experience working with CUA students, and he was impressed.

"The kids are very committed, very serious," he said. "The most positive aspect of the production is how willing and committed the students are."