Jack Freimann, a former Harper Joy Theatre director who retired in 1992, addresses alumni at the reunion's theatre-poster exhibit at Fouts Center for Visual Arts.
Drama took center-stage at Whitman’s spring Reunion Weekend as about 200 theatre alumni gathered on campus to celebrate 50 years of Harper Joy Theatre and the impact it and the college has had on their lives.
Among them were actors, teachers, an internationally renowned playwright and a range of “theatre people” from several decades.
Los Angles Shakespearean actor Eric Stein ’97, who teaches Shakespearean acting full-time, said he was a product of a public school with few resources for theatre. It was only when he walked into Harper Joy Theatre, its walls filled with theatre posters from around the world, that he was immediately immersed into the magic of theatre. And it was through the HJT faculty and experiences there he discovered a love for acting and Shakespeare.
“This was such a fantastic weekend. We had back-to-back amazing events pulled together by our volunteer chairs Kendall Tieck '74 and Morgan Murphy '89,” said Angela Torretta, assistant director for events.
Among highlights of the theatre reunion: alumni panels highlighting speakers spanning the decades from playwright Nagle Jackson ’58 to Jimmy Maize ’02, a director, producer, playwright and actor. Also, alumni, current students and current theatre director Nancy Simon ’61, Garrett Professor of Dramatic Arts, participated in the West Coast premiere of Nagle’s new play, “Kafka in the Wings.”
Ed Joy ’66 and James Joy ’57, sons of Harper Joy ’22, who was a staunch supporter of the college’s theater program, shared remembrances of their father, as did Doris Woodward, author of “Man of Many Faces: Harper Joy.” And there was an evening of show tunes around the piano with pianist Jackie Wood '87, senior lecturer of music at Whitman, and Parke Thomas '79, who coordinated bringing together “an amazing amount of talented singers,” Torretta said.
One reunion attendee attracted much loving attention: The man who hung collected and hung the theatre posters, Jack Freimann, former theatre director who retired in 1992 and who is now working as an actor in New York
“He’s my mentor,” said Christina Mastin ’84, as she stood next him at an exhibit of Freimann’s posters curated by current art students under the direction of Matthew Reynolds, assistant professor of art history. She said she learned the ethics of work and ego-less participation.
And that summed it up for many for many reunion participants who described their Whitman experience as transformative, life-changing.
This year’s Spring Reunion weekend was larger than normal – about 500 in all, including the nearly 300 alumni who were here for reunions of the Classes of 1970 and 1974-76.
Nancy Mitchell, associate director of alumni relations, called the weekend a whirlwind of events, highlighted by a Waterbrook Winery event, called “fabulous” by some alumni who experienced the “new” Walla Walla and its wineries. She reported that participants seemed really happy to be back on campus, and one alumna mentioned that even though much has changed on campus, “the heart of it is still there.”
Mitchell said the Class of 1970, led by reunion co-chairs Lewis Hale ’70 and Brent Walker ’70, had a record attendance for any Whitman 40th reunion — 40.3 percent. Also, the class brought in $511,868 in gifts and pledges. The Reunion Fund was co-chaired by Cathy Highberg ’70 Williams and Mark Lodine ’70.