Celebrating Forty Years of Drama at Walla Walla College
The Rigby Stage Dedication and Dinner Theater Performance of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)
Sunday, October 21, 2001
See photos of the tribute to Donnie Rigby and the performance.
Welcome and prayer by John Brunt, Vice
President for Academic Administration:
Good evening. It has been several years since the clear, distinctive, expressive voice of Donnie Rigby has been heard on this campus on a daily basis. And yet, the legacy of Donnie Rigby lives on daily on this campus. And we can talk about the many ways that that is true. But tonight we're here to celebrate one of those. And that is, the drama program that Donnie Rigby initiated and made a success and that carries on. I think of four reasons why I think Donnie was able to make the drama program here a success; the first drama program on an Adventist campus that actually offers a minor.
First of all, Donnie had a sensitivity in judgement. She was able to choose material that was consistent with the vision and the values of Walla Walla College.
Second, she had a wisdom. She choose material that furthered the intellectual and academic values of the college by making us think and challenging us.
Third, she had an understanding of her audience. She also made sure that what she did was enjoyable to us.
And finally, she had that marvelous skill as a teacher, both to instruct and inspire her students to do their very best, so that everything she did was top quality.
Donnie, as we think of that wonderful legacy that you have given us. It is a personal pleasure for me tonight, to be able to announce officially that this new space on our campus that carries on her legacy, will also carry her name, and be called the Donnie Rigby Stage. [applause] Would you please bow your heads with me and let's offer a prayer of dedication for this new facility.
Our Lord God, We are thankful that in the busyness of life we can come tonight for a time of enjoyment, a time of good food, a time of fellowship. We are especially grateful tonight that there are so many wonderful friends of this college who have come back home to share this occasion. We are especially grateful that Don and Donnie can be here. We are grateful for the heritage, the legacy, that both of them have given to this college. And we pray that as we dedicate this new space to that special legacy of drama, that Donnie has given us, that what goes on here will serve to entertain us, but also to educate us, to challenge us, but also to inspire us. We pray in Jesus' name, Amen.
Pam Harris, Chair of the Communications
Good evening, my name is Pam Harris and I'm the chair of the communications department. It's just a wonderful privilege to welcome every one of you with a very warm and cordial welcome. Isn't this fun? On behalf of the communications department, I want to welcome Donnie Rigby and also her husband, Don. Some of you may not know that Rigby Hall on our campus is named after him. So its nice to have an equal naming opportunity.
I also want to welcome you, who are her former students, faculty who are here, and our other guests and students. We're just delighted to be here and to be doing this in this facility.
And you know, one of the reasons I came here to Walla Walla College, is because of the drama program, and because of your legacy, Donnie Rigby. Thank you on behalf of the students that you've taught and the students who will come here and continue to take drama.
This is an historical occasion, not just because we are honoring Donnie Rigby and naming the stage, but because this is the first performance weekend in this facility. This is our new black box drama theater. And here we are, we're initiating it.
As you look around, you may not know what's behind us. And this is the television studio, which will be completed shortly. You had your buffet dinner in the Green Room. So if you're ever interviewed on one of our television shows, that's where you can sweat it out before you're called upon to be on camera. We're soon going to move into this wonderful new facility here in Canaday. And besides this drama facility, besides the television studio, Canaday will house the departmental headquarters, production studios, audio control room. Studio's for KGTS FM will be across the hallway. We will have our departmental headquarters, a reading room, faculty offices and a smart speech classroom. So you know we're getting excited and anxious to be here.
Now, there are several we need to thank tonight, and first, did you enjoy your dinner? Let's give a hand to the caterers. Bradley Nelson worked on the program. It's a wonderful program. Marilynn Loveless, who planned this event and had the vision for us. Jerry Mason and his folks at plant services. And Bill Rouse who is our builder and contractor. He's here tonight. Would you stand Bill? Wherever you are? Here he is. We want to thank Wanderlust Entertainment. And we thank you for being here. Because you are making this event.
Now, maybe you don't know that over the few days that this performance has been going on, it's been sold out. Saturday night there was standing room only in here, and I do mean standing room only. And tonight, there was a long waiting list as well. So you are very fortunate. Sit back tonight, relax, get comfortable, and enjoy "The Complete Works of Shakespeare."
Marilynn Loveless, Instructor in Communications:
Not everyone's going to have an opportunity to come up front and toast Donnie, and that's unfortunate, but we would be here for a long time if I allowed that. But there should be a piece of paper on your table that looks like this, plus a pen, and what we are wanting to do is have everyone, at each table at least put your name down so that Donnie will know that you were here. And perhaps a few comments, toast her if you will. So that's what that piece of paper is for.
I'd also like to encourage you to have a look at the beautiful flower arrangements. We are quite happy to sell those to you, so let me know, make me an offer and we'll talk. Thank you.
Loren Dickinson, Professor Emeritus:
I've been writing this speech for forty years. But I make you a promise. While it's taken me four decades to write this speech, not to worry, it will take me less than four minutes to give it. You have already heard and shall hear a number of generous and laudatory comments about Donnie. Many of them have been and will be true. Some of them will be half-true, some of them will not be true at all. But do you know the other side? That's the one we think we ought to look at.
One, do you know how many decibels she can fire up when she's agitated? Like Ellen White on a clear night, that rhymes if you kind of caught that, she can be heard nearly for a country mile without amplification. In fact, after RCA gave her a vocal tryout some years ago, they coined the word "loudspeaker."
Do you know how unreasonable she can be? She once voted for a candidate for governor of this state because she, the candidate, was female, on that basis alone. Never mind that the candidate won by one vote, and I do not know whose vote that was.
Do you know, that for forty years she's been secretly tortured by the fact that, while I go by my middle name, I have a first name that starts with "C" and she cannot figure out what that "C" stands for? But tonight Donnie, I shall reveal all. It stands for "con-found-it-all-anyway"
Do you know that she herself has other names besides the one she goes by? The one that she has liked for a long time is "Rigger," just "Rigger." She liked it for a long time actually until the day just a few months before she retired and was still taking the stairs two at a timethat's upwhen a petulant student played a little too freely with her name, and called her "Riggermortis!" She became agitated and could be heard for a country mile. She only proves our point!
And I come to my fourth and last point. Do you know that as tough as her exterior has been all these years, she never quite was able to silence her critics. So that provoked from me, a great American poem, and I'm up to saying it, quote:
"They who judge my drama should be in my place. It's no easy thing, these critics to face. If my theater you feel is a curse, then save your shots on me and stone the cast first."
If I were to name the Grand Dame, a Grand Dame, probably it would be Donnie the paradox. Tough but sensitive, serious but funny, a fine blend of nonsense and no nonsense, conservative in her values and generous in her giving. That my friends is the other side of the Grand Dame.
Gina Marie Lindsey, 1976 graduate:
My name is Gina Marie Lindsey, and I am one of many, very lucky students who had Donnie Rigby as a very big part of my life while I was part of Walla Walla College. That influence was striking. She actually gave me confidence. Now that may surprise you because I am relatively sure I was not the first, and I'm positive I was not the last, to be just a little intimidated by this woman.
There's the extraordinary dress, always impeccable. The all encompassing charisma and presence, there's no room that she ever went into that she didn't take. And then, there's "the VOICE." So the confidence? I figured out that someone this totally cool, if they would let me be part of their production, I must actually have some talent.
So I was convinced, and Donnie I must thank you for all the opportunities you gave me. I thank you for your courage in starting and consistently promoting a program that, as Dr. Brunt said, did not fit the ordinary template for Seventh-day Adventist higher education at the time. That legacy is something all of us who were able to benefit from it, thank you for. And I want to offer a toast to all of those in the future that will benefit from that legacy. Thank you La Grand Dame.
Dan Lamberton, 1971 graduate and Professor
I always seem to have to follow charisma, I don't know why. Well, I must say this. Shortly after the Rigbys retired and moved to California, I had a dream. I was on the coast of Maine and I sent them a postcard regarding this dream. So that delicate guffaw was appropriate, she knows what I'm about to say. Well, I'd gone to visit Rigbys in California in this dream, had not been there yet, but I have been there since, and as I approached the bougainvillea-covered rod iron, you know, California porch with tiles and stucco. And I pushed the buzzer, I heard a rustling and out of the depths of the cool house came a woman in a long dramatic gown, carrying in her two fingers a diamond studded cigarette holder, with smoking evidence on the end. I must say I never saw her inhale. And she welcomed me into the house and I said, "Well Donnie, that's what retirement is for. Whatever retirement takes us to, we do what we want." But that's not all the dream. Down under the couch I saw Don. He knew there was company going to see Donnie doing this and he wasn't about to be part of that.
Well, the dream is always a reflection of the dreamer I realize ... but the dream was based on this reality. I remember, I don't know how many times, there were "Twelve Angry Men," "Beams are Creaking," or "John Brown's Body"or something, but I remembered the Rigbys.
I remembered Donnie directing her heart out, working like crazy, giving everything that was there. And I remember many times, Don in the back supporting, listening. I remember you lying one time on a wooden bench in Village Hall when your back hurt.
So I think that is what the dream was based on. It wasn't so much how I exaggerated in my id, but rather on a very firm kind of reality that I think has been an inspiration to many of us for so long. That is an unbreakable partnership in the man of science and a woman of the arts. It's been an amazing inspiration to me and my life to watch that. You did change my life, and I know that.
I never took speech, I should have, but going into oral interpretation, going around to academies, reading Brecht in the dark, Mark Twain to poor unsuspecting academy students, going "Whoa, what's this" And I'm reading "War Prayer" or something. And she stood behind us, urged us on. Took us to the next place, said 'great, keep going, get some speech therapy, keep going.'
And finally, this weekend I was in Olympia at a conference, where someone opened the mic to the poets, and that can be good and bad. It was bad this time. It was a dinner and people were trying to eat, and a guy got up and read a poem that should never have been said out loud at all. It was grotesque, it was unseemly, and I wished like mad that I had been sitting by Donnie. We'd have picked up rolls together and thrown them at him I'm sure! Because she not only has tremendous courage toward what we would always might have thought would be a kind of edge in our own society. But she also has amazing propriety. And to see those two things in concert, I think is what gave her something that's irreplaceable, something I'll always remember and something I'm very grateful for. Thank you.
Mark Robison, 1997 graduate:
My name is Mark Robison. I teach, among other things, speech and drama at Union College. And I was in, let's see, one or two, three or four, several of Donnie's productions when I was in college here. I was also in her speech class. Extemporaneous speaking has its place. A script also has its place. I'm going to place my glasses now so I can read the script.
Last week, when I was attempting to explain to a couple of my students why I was making this journey to Walla Walla College to dedicate this space to Donnie Rigbys, I told them how this was happening. How Mrs. Rigbys awakened in me my love for drama and empowered me to pursue the dramatic arts of my teaching career. And how much these two students, who are theater students of mine, without ever having met her, owed a great deal to Mrs. Rigby. And I found myself trying to slip the word legacy into the conversation. But as they nodded indulgently at me, I came to the realization that Tony and Brandon would not be able to understand what I was talking about until years from now when they are talking to their own proteges about what it means to love drama and to explore the origins of that love.
So I traveled here from Lincoln, Nebraska to College Place to talk about legacy to the proper person. That person is someone who changed my life and many other lives because of her influence. And so Donnie, you taught me that it is possible to negotiate the sometimes-treacherous paths that reach through the borderlands of that place where the demands of art meet the demands of religion. It's possible to traverse those paths and to do so with grace and integrity. You showed me that perceived dichotomies between theater and religion are mostly false dichotomies. You showed me that when I face real dilemmas, I need to face them with dignified honesty. And you also showed me how to create honest and satisfying art under financial constraints in which descriptors such as "meager" and "Spartan" would overstate the institutional budget support for dramatic productions. And you taught me to look past those constraints, to focus on the core issue, that of creating art.
As Hamlet says, in a slightly different context, "The play's the thing." And this, this and so much more is the legacy that you have bestowed, and for this I thank you.
Marilynn Loveless, Instructor in Communications:
Good evening, I'm LuAnn Venden Herrell
LuAnn Venden Herrell, Assistant Professor
And I'm Marilynn Loveless. That's what everyone seems to think, so why fly in the face of public opinion.
Marilyn: There are a number of people that could not be here this evening and they sent some messages and I wanted to share them with you. One of those is Rodney Vance who taught here before we did, and this is what he had to say to you Donnie.
[Marilynn reading letter from Rodney Vance, former WWC drama teacher]: Dynamic, dramatic, Donnie, has done more to establish storytelling as a credible discipline for the spirit than anyone else in the Seventh-day Adventist church. She has made a profound contribution to one of the three pillars, mind, body, and spirit, of Adventist education. To Donnie.
Luann: In the spirit of always being prepared, I was going to put the one I was reading in my bag, and it's on my chair, so why don't you go first.
Marilynn: Alright. This is from Jean Inaba, who is very sorry that she could not be here tonight. She is now working for NPR radio in Washington, D.C. She runs a music program, and this is what she had to say:
[Marilynn reading letter from Jean Inaba,
With deepest gratitude for your warm friendship and enthusiasm for who I was, your support and appreciation of me not only as a student, but also as a person, someone still searching for my muse, my self-confidence, my worth as an adult, and my unique path of meeting the challenge of the real world. Through your encouragement and kindness, I left a better human being, kinder and gentler to myself, more forgiving of my own imperfections, with greater self-confidence, and a wider appreciation of what was really important in life. Although you mostly directly nurtured and encouraged the dramatic side of my artistic interests, my post college life has led me to a totally musical path. I put Saint Joan to bed many years ago. She was very tired, but the memories are still vivid. I promise not to faint next time. Your gentle hand in helping shape who I am today will always be remembered. Our work together as teacher, student, and friends, remains the stuff of cherished, happy memories. I remember them fondly, as I always think of you.
LuAnn: I have a message from Willa Sandmeyer, who is currently a reporter in Los Angeles at station KTLA.
[LuAnn reading letter from Willa Sandmeyer,
Say the name Donnie Rigby and an elegant, intelligent woman is the visual that comes to mind. A woman with a beautiful voice who taught so many of us to how to correctly use ours. I learned a lot from her Voice and Articulation class. I remember her telling the women in our class that a lower-pitched, well-modulated voice will always get more respect than a high one. I have used the techniques Donnie taught me in my career both in radio and television. I have even had viewers write to me saying, "Your voice is so easy to understand. You speak more clearly than others." Thank you Donnie.
Donnie also has a great sense of humor and is willing to be mildly self effacing, a wonderful attribute in someone so gifted. I remember her talking once about the challenges of dieting. Donnie said, "I told my husband I lost 5 pounds, and he said, 'Look behind you.'"
I loved working with Donnie and Mark in "Pygmalion." Mark had urged me to try out for the play. I thought I would be delighted to simply get a bit part, and I was stunned when I got the role of Eliza Doolittle. I took the responsibility of such a major role very seriously. I wrote out my lines on note cards, and had those cards with me all the time, memorizing lines every chance I had. I remember even practicing my lines while vacuuming my dorm room. I wanted to give my best for Donnie in the play. She inspired that kind of devotion. I also would never, ever have considered coming to rehearsal not prepared. Working on the play was a wonderful experience. It gave me greater confidence in public speaking. I also thoroughly enjoyed the camaraderie of a group effort focused on a common goal. Congratulations Donnie, for all you have done to encourage and inspire so many students to give their best and be their best in all things.
Marilynn: When we arrived here, LuAnn and I, Marilynn and I arrived here, two years ago, about the same time, you came a little bit before I did, and we decided to look around Village Hall, and see what was there, and we came across some really weird and wonderful things as you might imagine in a drama room, and there was one thing in particular that really struck us. A pair of very, very large shoes, and I said to Lu, whose could these possibly be ...
[Marilynn and LuAnn each hold up a very large shoe.]
LuAnn: Well, you know, obviously we thought of Jim Bock, because ...
Marilynn: You'll see in a minute, he's coming up next, and you'll understand ...
Jim Bock [from audience]: I've been looking for those for twenty years.
LuAnn: We figured maybe he had left them, you know, during a performance or something like that. They weren't his, and so, I did finally come up with the bright idea, figuring, these shoes are so large, that they must be important to somebody, because with feet like this, you probably have to have your shoes custom made, right? So perhaps there's some sort of identification on them is what I thought ...
Marilynn: And she was right.
[They turn over the shoes with the words "Donnie" and "Rigby" on them.]
Marilynn: Donnie, you left us some very large shoes to fill.
LuAnn: We thank you for that. We'd be glad to return the shoes, but we're not giving back the job.
[They give the shoes to Donnie]
Donnie Rigby [from audience]: Thank you. I'll treasure these. They will be buried with me!
Jim Bock, former WWC student:
As unaccustomed as I am to speaking behind a microphone oh well. I saw Marilynn, she said 'hurry it up'.
Ladies and Gentlemen, honored guests, old friends,
Donnie had that rare gift of making everyone believe in her vision of the possible. And for young college students, her vision was life-affirming. Those of us you've heard from tonight, embody that vision. We came to believe in our abilities, and into the art of the possible. She knew that through drama, she could reach students in a unique way that none of the other professors could quite match.
She taught us desperately needed social skills. She taught us self examination and how to think critically and independently. Perhaps most of all, she made us, through some odd sort of alchemy, love beauty. To love language, and to love poetry.
I always called her coach. She never told me whether she liked being tagged with that particular appellation. But I think she knew it was a term of both affection and respect. We made an odd couple
Despite her size, she slew many dragons in the theater, and I think every former student here tonight, if asked, would take up her flag and join her army again.
So tonight we celebrate Donnie Rigby and what she has meant
to us and this school by naming a theater space in her honor. But the true
tribute is not the space or her name above the door, it's the people in this
room, and the many hundreds of others who keep her light, her kindness, her
advice and her direction, burning brightly and eternally in their memories.
She did so much for all of us, and we will never forget.
So Donnie, may the best of your past, be the worst of your future.
David Lennox, 1988 graduate:
Donnie is unique, and that's the way we like it. Donnie is the only professor I had at Walla Walla College who gave a final exam that was oral. In the classroom, she drew the questions and as we went around we had to answer and our grade depended on how we answered the question in front of everyone. Also on the London Tour, I remember Donnie herding us through the streets of London, getting us to the place we needed to be in that crowded city. Part Mother Hen, part Sir Winston Churchill. Donnie is the only professor at Walla Walla College who in addition to all of the things that she taught, gave me personal hygiene and grooming tips.
Donnie taught us many things, and here are quickly just four lessons that I take from her.
Number One: when you put on a play, make sure you appreciate the contributions of everyone, not just the stars on the stage.
Number Two: Enunciate.
Number three: Appropriateness and tact do matter.
And Number Four: In your art and in your life, take some risks. You might ruffle some feathers, but if the cause is a good one the outcome will be good too.
And I think Donnie's genius, is that she taught these lessons, and other lessons, not primarily through lecturing or preaching at us, but as a good dramatist, through enacting and embodying them.
When I was ready to graduate from Walla Walla College, I was asked along with some other students, to put on a reader's theater for the graduation weekend. And we got together and we worked and we created a script and practiced as we had been taught, and it went rather well. And afterwards I remember Donnie telling me that people had come up to her and thanked her for putting together such a good program. And she told them, a little bit proudly I think, that she had had nothing to do with it, that we had done it on our own.
Well Donnie, we did do it on our own, and you were right that at that point we were ready to be kicked out of the nest, but as we all know, it's also true that you had everything to do with that and more to the point, all of the successes that have been enjoyed by all of your students over the years, must in some small way, that blame must come to roost on your shoulders.
We thank you for that.
Kimberly Howard, former WWC drama teacher:
Hi. Wow. In the three years that I taught here at Walla Walla College, I actually only saw Donnie twice maybe three times, but her spirit, her energy, and most of all her courage in the face of what we all know is a very difficult thing to do at an Adventist university, which is theater, was always with me. And I just want to thank you Donnie for that.
One of the things that I always hold dear about Adventism is the pioneer spirit. Ellen White stood up and said "We're going to do this" She was a woman, and they let her do it, well for a time, right? Donnie, you stood up and said, "We're going to do this," and you did it in a church too. And I respect that.
And so, when I got here, I wanted a space like this, and I wanted to name it after you, and I'm really glad to see that that's happening, and I thank you for the path that you led, because when I was a college student, in an Adventist university, we didn't have something like this, so I went out and got a degree so I could bring it to those students, and it's because of people like you, that we can do that. Thank you.
Adam Lombard, WWC student and actor:
When I was very young, my family actually had a "Grand Dame" and he was a big fellow named Shosha and he barked a lot ... and I really don't understand the nickname, I'm sorry. For those of you who are wondering, yes I am wearing makeup right now, and if I appear nervous I'm not really nervous, I'm wearing a pair of tights.
I've actually known Donnie Rigby for about two hours now. They've been life changing two hours. I met Donnie Rigby last year when she was the voice of the Administration Building at Alumni Weekend. I helped her out in a skit and met her again this evening. And I didn't start at Walla Walla College. I started at a different Adventist College. And I came here to Walla Walla for one reason, and one reason alone, and that is because I had heard that Walla Walla had an incredible engineering program. And Dr. Wood is here this evening, and it is true, he has an incredible engineering program. But I'm afraid that I was captured by the drama program here. I went to my first drama tryout here on campus because there was a very beautiful girl that was trying out and I found out. But I ended up getting hooked into the drama program, and I have fallen deeply in love with the theater.
I firmly believe that we stand on the shoulders of those who come before us, and while you have very nice, tiny, petite, shoulders, I stomp on them quite frequently. Most of the other people here who toasted you this evening are people that knew you and were directly influenced by your life. But I'd like to think that I'm one of your intellectual and emotional children, and that the drama program here has changed my life and I've found my life's work in the drama program here. And while this evening is meant to honor you, I think it honors me more in the fact that I'm allowed to be here as one of the first performers on a stage that's named after you. Thank you very much.
[The Messengers singing group sings "Hello Donnie."]
Donnie Rigby: Well, I was listening to all those presentations and wondering "Who is that stranger that they're talking about?"
I would just wager that when many of you received the announcement for this evening's events, your response was "Is that old girl still around? you know I thought she went out with the mastodons." Well in reality I did. I went out with my master-Don. [Speaking to her husband, Don, in the audience] You don't get any time tonight.
And then I thought of that perennial question that has been asked by Hamlet through the ages, "To be, or not to be." And my answer is "TO BE!" And I think I'm being heard so far, so, to be. In his book, "The Once and Future King," Theodore H. White suggests that when we strengthen the lives of others, we traverse time. For those lives that we have touched are strengthened through time. And may I suggest that it is certain that the giver becomes the receiver.
When the drama program was started here at Walla Walla College, help came from a number of sources. A few teachers were there to support me, and many students, and as I think about it, I think almost every discipline on this campus has been on the stage in Village Hall. And the students were willing to share of their time and their talents, even in those days, when they got absolutely no academic credit for it. It certainly was a labor of love.
When I was contemplating retirement in 1992, I thought, "Will the book on drama have only a one-act play in it at here at this college? Was F. Scott Fitzgerald correct when he said, 'In America, there are no second acts?'"
Well, I think that a number of people, Rodney, David, Kim, Marilynn, and LuAnn, have proved that what Fitzgerald said was certainly not true. And all of us, be we actors, directors, craftsmen, and they're all important, all of us know, that as we participated in this art form we matured as people and we learned a lot. We learned self-discipline. We learned how to present our ideas. We learned patience. And we learned lovelove for our craft, and love for each other. And all of those are very, very important.
And tonight, I want to thank all of you, ALL of you, for coming to this presentation. You just don't understand how meaningful it is to be here. And as I look out at this audience, and I see people that remind me of King Henry VIII, and I see the Gentleman Caller, and I see the son in Glass Menagerie, and I see the mother in Glass Menagerie, and I see The Rivals, the young lieutenant, and on and on and on we could go, and such beautiful memories these bring to me. And I want to thank all of you people for teaching me so much and for enriching my life. And I want to thank Marilynn and her crew for what they have done here tonight. And I would suggest that there's just a little token of what I want to give you, and my husband will do the honors here.
But I think that on this campus we now know, that "The play is the thing." And we are now ready to say, as we go to the next event, "Let the play begin," and thank you all. W