October 12, 2004
Katter Theatre Provides New Venue For Performing Arts
The Nafe Katter Theatre, the latest addition
to the University's stock of production theaters, adds another
platform for aspiring student actors and professional actors
working with the Connecticut Repertory Theatre to ply their trade.
|Q & A With Nafe
Nafe Katter, professor emeritus of dramatic arts, poses for a portrait in the new
theater that bears his name. The theater opened with a production of Julius Caesar.
Photo by Peter Morenus
The $4.5 million building, which bridges structures housing
the School of Fine Arts and the Department of Dramatic Arts,
is a 229-seat, 11,795-square-foot edifice. Featuring stadium
seating on three sides of the stage - hence the term "thrust"
to describe it - the theater also is the first major building
on campus to be designed by a UConn employee.
The theatre officially opened Oct. 7 with much fanfare and
a production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Following the show,
there was a discussion hosted by Jonathan Moscone, artistic
director of the California Shakespeare Theatre in San Francisco's
East Bay, a graduate of the Yale School of Drama, and an authority
on Shakespeare's plays. In addition to Moscone, members of the
cast, design team, and director Gary English joined the discussion.
Funding for the building came through UConn 2000 ($3.5 million),
and from Professor Emeritus Nafe Katter - a longtime drama professor
who retired in 1997 - who donated $1 million toward the project.
Joe Leone, a registered architect who works in architectural
and engineering services, led the in-house construction effort,
which included two other employees from the same department
- Suresh Amin and Michael Rocchetti. Amin, an electrical engineer,
coordinated the layout of the building's electrical systems,
and Rocchetti, a mechanical engineer, plotted the structure's
The theatre's thrust stage configuration provides an intimate
atmosphere, bringing the actors directly into the audience.
The set-up is ideal for classical plays - such as the current
production of Julius Caesar - and small contemporary productions.
UConn actors also work on the stage of the 493-seat Harriet
S. Jorgensen Theatre and the 116-seat Studio Theatre.
The Connecticut Repertory Theatre, part of the School of Fine
Arts, is the professional producing arm of the Department of
Dramatic Arts. CRT stages a variety of theater, from classic
plays and musicals to premieres of the latest contemporary works,
featuring some of the nation's top theater professionals on
stage with the department's most promising students.
The CRT opened the doors on the theatre Thursday, with a contemporary
production of Shakespeare's greatest political play, Julius
Caesar. Directed by Gary M. English, CRT's artistic director
and a professor of dramatic arts, this Julius Caesar is described
as freshly interpreted from a contemporary human rights point
of view. It features six Actors' Equity guest artists, including
three alumni of UConn's master of fine arts acting program who are
now successful professional actors.
Performances run through Oct. 17, Wednesday through Sunday.
The Wednesday and Thursday evening performances start at 7:30
p.m.; Friday and Saturday shows begin at 8 p.m.; and Saturday and
Sunday matinees start at 2 p.m.
Tickets and information are
available at the Box Office at 860.486.4226.
Q & A With Nafe Katter
Nafe Katter, professor emeritus of dramatic arts, donated $1
million toward the construction of the new theater, named in
his honor, that was dedicated last weekend.
Skye Dent interviewed him earlier this year for the Advance.
The Nafe Katter Theatre
Photo by Peter Morenus
Q. Will you talk a bit about your theatrical training?
A. I trained at the University of Michigan. I got a Ph.D. in
theater there. I came to UConn to teach because I wanted to
work every day in the theater and I felt that was the best way
to do that.
Q. What was your first job here as a professor?
A. My first job was in the arts department, only at that time,
it was speech and drama. We were in the College of Arts and
Sciences [the forerunner to the College of Liberal Arts and
Sciences]. A few years after I came here, speech and drama split
off from arts and sciences and joined the School of Fine Arts,
with music and art. The School of Fine Arts did not exist at
first. I came in 1957, and in 1961 the School of Fine Arts was
founded, and we then became a department. I taught a whole variety
of courses, stage makeup, acting, history of theater, and a
range of voice and diction courses, and I directed four productions a year.
Q. You took on a lot of responsibility.
A. Well, we were a small department. There were only five of
us. We were housed in temporary Quonset huts. Over the next
10 years, we expanded significantly.
Q. What kept you here all those years?
A. I kept thinking, I'm here on the ground floor, building
a program from scratch. And I thought, if I were to go anywhere
else, it would have to be somewhere that would be as challenging
and as potentially exciting. And the fact that we were a professionally
-oriented school was very appealing because it meant that I
could go off and do professional gigs. So I went to Miami to
the Coconut Grove playhouse to direct a show there. I went to
Indiana Rep in Indianapolis to do Thomas Beckett in Murder in
the Cathedral. And I worked in the Nutmeg for 10 years as a
professional director and actor, working with some of the best
actors in the professional world. It was an exciting time. I
had everything I wanted. Why go elsewhere?
Q. What does that mean, that the drama program is professionally-oriented?
A. Here in the School of Fine Arts, in the Department of Dramatic
Arts, we are encouraged to do professional work, because that
is the equivalent of publishing in other fields. So, rather
than writing a book, we are allowed to go out and do professional
productions, as designers, as actors, as
directors, because that keeps our professional hands in and
we are, as a result, more critical to our students working in
the profession. And I think it adds to the University's stature
as well, that there are artists who are working professionals
teaching. It's a real attraction for recruitment and for training.
Q. Is there a community outside of UConn that appreciates the
A. On the ground, it doesn't seem like it is heavily populated
because it's a rural area. But if you go up in the air about
a thousand feet and look down, you can see that there are a
lot of towns in the area besides Hartford, not to mention the
11,000 people who live on campus. So, the theater program services
them, as well as people from outlying cities and towns.
Q. Why did you decide to give a million dollars to build a
A. I wanted to encourage other people to think about theater
as contributors, as benefactors. Oftentimes, the theater is
the last institution to get that kind of support. I thought
by making my contribution, I could get the pot boiling. Also,
it's a thrust stage, which means it stands out into the audience.
The audience sits around it on three sides. So, it is a much
more intimate venue. We have not had that kind of space. Over
the past 25 years, this thrust style, which alters the actor-audience
relationship, has become very popular. So most of
the wonderful new resident theaters, like the Godfrey in Minneapolis
and so many others, are built as thrust theaters. I wanted our
actors to have that kind of experience.
Q. A million dollars is a lot of money. How can an actor, who
is not a Hollywood star, realize his or her acting dreams and
make that kind of money?
A. Acquire property. That was the key. In 1977, I bought a
flat in London in South Kensington, a very nice area. I bought
it very inexpensively. And when I sold it a couple of years
ago, it had appreciated enormously. I sold a condo in Florida
that I had. And I sold
a cottage that my father left me in Michigan on Lake Huron.
So, selling all these properties, I was able to put that money
Q. Do you have any second thoughts about selling those properties?
A. I never really wanted to own anything more than I could
carry around in my bag.
Q. How much input did you have in the design of the theater?
A. There were only two things I insisted on. One was having
a trap under the stage so that actors could come up from below
the stage. That's very important, especially in the classics
and in Shakespeare. And the other thing I insisted on was dressing
rooms in the theater, connected to the theater. It would have
been a long walk indeed, especially in the cold, for the actors
to walk to a dressing room from a separate building.
Q. Do you ever think about coming back and teaching?
A. I miss the students enormously. I miss the teaching. I miss
my colleagues. But I did it for 40 years. That's enough. I think
it's time for someone else.