NACOGDOCHES, Texas – Being a theatre and/or dance student is not just about performances; it's also about the bonds formed backstage and in the wings. For college theatre and dance students, the years spent honing their craft and creating memorable productions are often filled with intense collaboration, late-night rehearsals and enduring friendships.
As the years pass, these alumni find themselves scattered across the country, pursuing diverse careers on and off the stage. But the love for the craft never truly fades. College performing arts reunions offer a unique opportunity for former students to come back to their alma mater, reunite with old friends, embrace new technology, and pass on their wisdom to the next generation of performers.
The School of Theatre and Dance at Stephen F. Austin State University will host a series of reunions throughout SFA’s centennial year that invites graduates from certain decades to attend weekend celebrations for certain plays and dance concerts. The upcoming presentation of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Piano Lesson” is the first Mainstage production of the 2023-24 season and will host a gathering of theatre students who graduated from SFA in the 1960s and ’70s. The show runs Sept. 28 through Oct. 1 in the new Flex Theatre.
Because of her own participation in similar events, CC Conn, professor of lighting and sound design, knows the value of reunions as a means of re-igniting school spirit and department support. As she began to think of creative ways to make reunions happen regularly during the coming season, she realized having a newly renovated Griffith Fine Arts Building and Turner Auditorium to show theatre and dance alumni was an added enticement. 
“It began to occur to me that the older alumni were really going to miss a lot of the things that were part of their history here, and I knew it would be important to re-connect them with the current space and faculty to keep their support,” Conn said. “I thought it would be a good idea to have ‘decades’ represented throughout the year so people might come to a date that would have more of their own contemporaries in attendance.”
Cleo House Jr., director of the School of Theatre and Dance, said he was immediately onboard when he heard Conn’s idea.
“I hope that our alumni can see how much they are valued, and that we are still here for them, even if the environment changed,” House said. “I am enthusiastic about this opportunity for us all to strengthen relationships with each other.”
Dance faculty members have a strong bond with their alumni and have wanted to create a reunion for years, according to Heather Samuelson, associate director of the school and associate professor of dance.
“With the increased publicity and knowledge of the new Griffith Fine Arts Building, alumni have steadily reached out to us inquiring about tours and events,” Samuelson said. “We felt that the opening of the building would be a great jumping off point to encourage a reunion and gather all of the alumni to share in the facility.”
An exciting aspect of reunions is the chance for alumni to see their beloved performance spaces transformed by modern technology and innovation. State-of-the-art lighting, sound systems and projection equipment allow former students to experience a whole new level of creative possibilities, igniting the passion they once felt as young actors, technicians and dancers.
The run of “Once Upon a Mattress” Nov. 2 through 5 will be a theatre alumni reunion of the 2010s decade; Danceworks Concerts Nov. 9 through 11 and April 11 through 13, along with the Repertory Dance Concert Feb. 15 through 17, will host reunions of all dance decades; “The 39 Steps” Feb. 29 through March 3 will host theatre alumni of the 2000s decade; and “Real Women Have Curves,” running two weekends, April 18 through 21 and April 25 through 28, will host a reunion of theatre alumni from the 1980s and ’90s.
Receptions will follow all Friday night performances, and brunches are scheduled prior to all Saturday afternoon matinees. Campus and building tours will be offered.
“The purpose and goal of hosting a reunion is to unite artists in all areas of fine arts – past and present,” Samuelson said, “and to join together in celebrating a modernized facility and the continued work of current and future artists.”
“We want to bring alumni back to campus to share their experiences and backgrounds, which serves as recruitment and visibility for the university and School of Theatre and Dance.” she added. “Alumni want to see the programs from which they came grow, and they will support that growth through donations, concert and event attendance and recruitment efforts.”
Organizers believe these reunions will be a testament to the enduring power of the performing arts and the bonds formed during transformative years. As alumni return to their alma maters, they rediscover the magic of the stage, reconnect with old friends, and embrace the technological advancements that have reshaped the performance landscape. But perhaps most importantly, they pass on their passion and knowledge to the next generation of students, ensuring that the love for theatre and dance continues to thrive for decades to come.
For information about the reunions, contact the School of Theatre and Dance office at (936) 468-4003.