Theatre students shine because of Theatre Guild family

Purdue TheatreThe word "theatre" conjures many images: memorizing lines, dressing in elaborate costumes, standing on stage, taking people in a dark audience to faraway places – sometimes wonderful and sometimes frightening, sometimes thought provoking and sometimes funny.

Whatever springs to mind, it's a good assumption vaccinating a rabbit will never make the list.

Unless you've actually been in theatre, that is. The things theatre people encounter behind the scenes are sometimes just as interesting as some of the scripts they bring to life onstage – and meeting these hidden challenges educates them as well as any classroom.

“We were doing the Tennessee Williams play Night of the Iguana and we needed an iguana. But we couldn’t get a live iguana so we decided to use a rabbit instead,” explains Dale Miller, professor emeritus and former theatre director (1976-98). The rabbit was in a gunny sack but don’t worry, it could breathe. And while the audience didn’t know it was a rabbit, they didn’t know it wasn’t an iguana either. Miller adds: “All they knew was that there was something live in the sack that was moving around every now and then. But we ran into health code complications and needed to prove that the rabbit had been vaccinated. So we called in a vet and got the rabbit its vaccination.”

So, if the show must go on, then the rabbit must be vaccinated or an iguana must be found. Funding for these odd, unanticipated expenses would only come from one place — a group who knows exactly why they're so important.

[Enter Theatre Guild, stage right, swooping in to save the day . . .]

The Purdue Theatre Guild was established by Miller with the idea dating back to a brown-bag luncheon in 1977 where he gave a presentation and met Robert and Helen Horton, long time patrons of Purdue Theater. “They knew we struggled every year to keep things going and stopped me after my presentation and asked how they could help. I told them we needed an outside funding source that would help pay for what is not covered by the University,” recalls Miller.

The Horton’s support was just the start. “Other friends and patrons began asking what they could do to help and it grew from there. As the years have gone on, the guild has become invaluable to Purdue theatre,” notes Miller.

“Donor gifts vary in size but collectively, they are a force,” shares Joel Ebarb, theatre department chair and associate professor of theatre. “They are our bread and butter! Without them we couldn’t shine.”

And shine they do. With contributions totaling approximately $30,000 annually, the guild helps support the educational mission of the department by funding trips for students to travel to professional auditions and events where they are able to connect with people in the industry. It also helps provide student scholarships. “A scholarship, no matter what size, shows we care – that we are really interested in the students. And sometimes it has helped convince particular students to come to Purdue,” states Ebarb.

Approximately 90 percent of theatre majors are placed in their field of study right after graduation. “We have a good working relationship with many professional theatres and performing arts organizations, and many of our students who complete internships end up receiving job offers,” Ebarb adds.

With deep appreciation, he shares that guild members are like family. They are involved and invested in watching the students grow. In fact, many theatre alumni and patrons who have moved away still keep track of what is happening. “It is their dedication that makes them so special,” said Ebarb. “They love the connection with the students and that they get to watch them evolve through their whole academic career. Isn’t that what a family does?”

According to Miller and Ebarb, donating to the guild is the most direct way to contribute to this program. Miller goes on to say: “We are fortunate to have a community that truly embraces the Arts. The fact is that without the guild, theatre at Purdue would not be able to maintain its current commitment to excellence.”

Not all theatre majors go on to become professional actors – but each graduate from the Department of Theatre at Purdue University becomes a person who can see the world in a new way and bring what they see to the stage or the boardroom.

As for the rabbit – she is now appearing in a performance of Hamlet at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady. In a non-speaking role of course.