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Division of Performing Arts Celebrates 50th Anniversary with New Leader

by Janelle Hill Sep 28, 2019

Dozens of alumni are helping the Division of Performing Arts mark a major milestone.

The division, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, hosted an alumni reception to help kick off Homecoming weekend. Alums mingled with faculty members, including Anne Lewis, the new division head.  

Lewis is the first woman and alumna to hold that title, and she takes over for John Bell, who stepped down after serving as division head for 12 years. A 1980 theatre alum, Lewis began teaching at DeSales in 1998, and, in 2003, she became a full-time faculty member. As a student, she got a first-hand look at the theatre program’s transformation from humble beginnings to a powerhouse of performing arts.

“I don’t even know how Father Jerry Schubert [founder of the theatre program] did it, except pure Bulldog determination,” she says. “He had to recruit all his own students. We didn’t even have a theatre; he actually did the plays at Cedar Crest.” 

After using Cedar Crest’s theatre, Fr. Jerry was able to use a lecture hall in the basement of Dooling Hall, which served as the Act 1 theatre. Fr. Schubert directed in the “theatre” while David Neville built sets on the old basketball court in Billera Hall, and then brought them over to Dooling piece by piece. Students were tasked with designing and making the costumes until a costume designer could be hired. 

“It was really crazy when I think about it,” says Lewis. “But that’s what we all were taught and grew up with: that you just make do with what you have. And we did and Fr. Schubert kept pushing.” 

By 1982, Fr. Schubert’s dogged determination led to the Labuda Center for the Performing Arts—a permanent home for theatre, dance, and film. In her new role, Lewis is looking to grow in both enrollment and space, and to continue to build upon the solid foundation that Fr. Schubert created. 

“The big dream is to be able to continue to grow in the performing arts and spread the Salesian mission that the Oblates started at DeSales. And to live up to the high bar in quality Father Jerry created and lived by in theatre, dance, and film. And I’d like to think to date we have done that.”

In celebration of the 50th anniversary, the division is hosting a number of special events throughout the academic year. On March 27, it will host a “Best of the Fest” event, showcasing films from the last 20 years of the DeSales Film Festival, followed by an alumni reception. On April 5, it will host Elizabeth von Trapp, granddaughter of Maria, in concert to usher in the production of The Sound of Music. On May 7, the dance department will hold an alumni dance concert and reception.