Founded in 1964 "to foster interest in the Wayne State University Theatres and primarily to support the Hilberry Theatre, by fund raising, by promoting excellence and by developing audiences."
When Leonard Leone and Clarence Hilberry formed the Hilberry Classic Repertory Theatre at Wayne State University in 1962, nothing like it had ever existed before in the United States. After Hilberry personally raised the money to finance the start-up, he was determined to keep the start-up capital separate from state funding for the university. He knew, however, that such autonomy would require continuous fundraising to perpetuate the program and that he would not have the time to do it all himself. This realization inspired him to create a group that would help raise funds and keep the theatre's finances balanced in perpetuity.
But in 1962 there was no such thing as "Fund Development." Donors to arts organizations were wealthy "angels," and Detroit had its share who had made their fortunes in the automotive industry. Hilberry, however, saw the angels of his theatre as something entirely different and as unique as the theatre itself. Instead of approaching corporate titans or invested businessmen, he approached Detroit's socialites, and he asked this group of women to form the leadership for a support group.
They were a Detroit sorority of sorts, slightly elitist, but intentionally so to attract donations. And it was this carefully crafted coterie, with a certain upper-middle-class presence among auto industry executives, doctors, lawyers, educators and blue-collar labor alike, that made the Understudies stand out as original, respected and desirable as a membership organization. Devotees of the theatre wanted to belong.
Today, 48 years after its inception, the Understudies boasts more than 80 members and has gone on to raise more than $2.5 million for the Hilberry Theatre and its graduate theatre training program. Year after year, the organization has excelled at its mission of "fundraising, promoting excellence, and developing audiences."
The extent of their reach can be gauged by the involvement they have with the Hilberry Company – they host opening night receptions and special events and are major players in President's Preview – a select few even welcome company members into their families as adoptive "stage parents."
How to get InvolvedContact:
Theatre Management Office
Maggie Allesee Department of Theatre and Dance
Wayne State University
4841 Cass Ave, Suite 3226
Detroit, MI 48202