SALISBURY, MD--In 1933, the same year that Salisbury Normal School's theatre club, Sophanes Players, was founded, a teenager from the Mid-West--Bobbi Biron--moved to Salisbury.
Her father, Dr. J. Harry Biron, established a successful chiropractic practice. "Salisbury was very good to our family," said Ms. Biron. Now, in gratitude to the community which has been her home most of her life, Biron, 82, is endowing Salisbury State University‚s Theatre Program for more than $500,000.
With this gift SSU becomes the first campus in the 13-member University System of Maryland with an endowed theatre program or department. In gratitude to its benefactor, the program is being named in her honor.
The gift will have a major impact on campus theatre, immediately doubling and eventually tripling its budget.
"Bobbi Biron is a real hero of the arts in Salisbury," said SSU President William C. Merwin. "She is someone who has done more than enjoyed what she saw. She has ensured that our descendants will have the opportunity to enjoy first-rate theatre on the lower Shore."
According to Martin Williams, vice president of university advancement, in the next few years, the Biron gift will provide just under $12,000 of support annually. Then, as the endowment is fully established through the SSU Foundation, interest will provide a minimum of $25,000. Currently, the Theatre Program has an annual budget of some $12,000.
"The University is extremely grateful to the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore for directing her generosity to this wonderful program," Williams added.
Biron has stipulated a variety of uses for her gift, but those most frequently mentioned by her and SSU officials are student scholarships and guest artists‚ programs.
Artists would include not only guest directors, designers and actors who would work with productions, but also teach specialities such as stage combat or period costuming, and conduct workshops. "They would provide a wide range of experiences for students as well as the community," said SSU‚s director of theatre, Dr. T. Paul Pfeiffer. "We are most grateful to Ms. Biron and want to see her gift put to immediate use." Already Pfeiffer is in negotiation with educators at the Globe Theatre Center in London, England, which recently opened the acclaimed replica of Shakespeare‚s playhouse. He is discussing the hiring a visiting director for the upcoming season.
Although the Theatre Program (part of the Communication Arts Department) is small--three other professors besides Pfeiffer direct and design as well as teach--its individual members have had notable successes. Pfeiffer was one of only two dozen American educators asked last summer to participate in the Globe‚s "Teaching Shakespeare Through Performance." He returns to England this summer where the Royal Shakespeare Company is presenting his play, An Apology for the Life of an Actor. Dr. Andrew Hepburn, who also directs, is founding president of Art Culture Nature Inc., a national association for the study of the arts and the environment. Art Culture Nature holds its second international conference in Seattle, WA, in July. Professor Robert Smith, director, is a member of the Fine Arts Advisory Panel for the State Department of Education which develops policy and advocates for arts education in Maryland schools. Professor Gerry Patt Jr., designer and technical director, is a regional officer for the United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT), and has presented or served as chair of its national meeting for the last eight years.
Biron first started attending professional theatre in New York and Wilmington with her family, and recently became an SSU Theatre subscriber.
The University "offers so much to residents here," she said. "The Symphony Orchestra, the dance (concerts) ... I love the theatre. And people on campus have been so kind and gracious."
"Salisbury has been good to the Biron family. This is a little way of repaying it."