Three Honored for Work In West Liberty Theater Program
Three individuals who made the West Liberty University dramatic arts program what it is today will be honored Friday during the inaugural Hilltop Players Wall of Fame ceremony in Kelly Theatre on campus.
The first inductee bears the theater’s name, the late Dr. Helen M.T. Kelly, who taught at West Liberty from 1964-1976. The second is Stanley Harrison, who is credited with designing the theater space and taught from 1962-76. The third to be honored is John Reilly, who in his 26 years at West Liberty directed more than 100 productions in Kelly Theatre.
“These longtime faculty members influenced the work of several decades of students,” said Michael Aulick, WLU theater director. “Their hard work and dedication to establishing, building and maintaining the standard of education and production excellence that the Hilltop Players are known for make them perfect choices to be the first class of Hilltop Players Wall of Fame honorees.”
Aulick established the Wall of Fame along with longtime WLU technical director Meta Lasch. Lasch has a direct link to all three honorees, having been a student of the first two and working alongside Reilly during his entire career at WLU.
“These people established something,” Lasch said.
Aulick and Lasch said they have wanted to start the Wall of Fame, which will be located in Kelly Theatre, for many years. The ceremony begins at 5 p.m. and will include introductions, acceptance speeches and unveiling of the plaques, followed by a reception in the Nutting Gallery. The evening concludes with a Hilltop Players performance of “As It Is in Heaven.” Tickets to the event include the ceremony, reception and play.
“The money raised will go back into a fund for future Wall of Fame expenses,” Aulick said, and any surplus will go toward scholarships.
Tickets are available at http://wluwof.brownpaper tickets.com.
Kelly taught speech and dramatic arts at West Liberty State College for 13 years. Before her death of cancer at age 61 in 1976, West Liberty named the theater for her. Prior to teaching at West Liberty, she instructed at Emmanuel College in Boston and Mercyhurst College in Erie.
She has a reputation for being a highly skilled educator and director who quietly commanded respect.
“She was such a good person no one wanted to even say a word that rhymed with a bad word around her,” noted Aulick.
Said Lasch: “She was such a mentor to everybody. … She had an aura where you couldn’t help but respect her.” Lasch recalled Kelly provided her with her first chance to design a “real live show” during the spring of her senior year, which was Kelly’s last semester teaching. Former student Judy Hennen will accept the posthumous award on Kelly’s behalf, Aulick said.
Harrison, a New York City resident, has been acting and teaching actors for nearly 50 years. He was a veteran of the New York stage and helped develop the West Liberty program into a successful training ground for actors who have gone on to perform on Broadway and in television and films. He is a member of the Actor’s Equity Association, and his credits include a variety of voiceovers and a stint on “The Sopranos” television show.
The Kelly Theatre stands as a tribute to Harrison’s knowledge and diligence as he was instrumental in its design.
“The theater we have is such a good performance theater because Stanley Harrison was here,” Lasch said. “He fought for everything we got.”
“His students talk about him like he’s a god, and I kind of get it,” Aulick said. “Every time I talk to him, he has this kind of positive energy. He’s not feeling well, but when I get off the phone with him, I feel better.”
Harrison is unable to attend the ceremony, but he will be present via a live video link.
Reilly, of Bethlehem, continues to be active in regional theater as an actor and director, performing often at the Little Lake Theater in Canonsburg and on the Towngate Theatre stage, most recently directing the farce “Noises Off!”
A native of northeast New Jersey, Reilly has directed Pittsburgh shows at the Quantum Theater, PICT Classic Theatre and Three Rivers Shakespeare.
“John and I have been on stage together before and worked on a couple of projects developing new works by playwrights in the area. … I’ve acted with a lot of people, and he’s professional quality,” Aulick said.
Lasch said she and Reilly had such an “amazing working relationship” they often would have the same ideas simultaneously. She said he directed four shows a year at West Liberty and worked with more than 1,000 students.
“I very much admire the man,” she said.
In a phone interview Thursday, Reilly said no one goes into teaching for the recognition, but “a good portion of my adult life was spent (at West Liberty), so it’s nice to be acknowledged.”
He said he is most proud of his students, noting the largest high school theater programs in the area are run by his former students.
“That means I have grandchildren,” he quipped. He is looking forward to seeing many of his former students at the ceremony.
“The real reward is knowing that I’ve made a difference in people’s lives for the better.”