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Susan Stroman receives honorary doctorate

P. Coleman Townsend, a member of UD’s Board of Trustees, presents Susan Stroman with an honorary doctor of humane letters degree.
6:35 p.m., Oct. 31, 2005--Five-time Tony Award-winning choreographer Susan Stroman received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree from the University of Delaware on Saturday, Oct. 29, in Gore Hall.

More than 90 faculty, staff, alumni and friends of UD joined University President David P. Roselle in welcoming Stroman, a 1976 UD graduate.

“We celebrate all those who perform and create, and we also congratulate the rest of us who help make up an appreciative audience,” Roselle said. “Susan, in the words of Yogi Berra, ‘Thank you for making tonight necessary.’”

The reception and dinner held in Stroman’s honor followed a visit to Morris Library, a meeting with students in UD’s Professional Theatre Training Program and a hardhat tour of the Center for the Arts construction site at Amstel Avenue and Orchard Road.

Roselle told those gathered for the dinner that Stroman had earlier made a major gift to UD’s new Center for the Arts and said, “Susan, we are deeply grateful for your assistance.”

Roselle also recognized the generosity of guest Eleanor Paradee, for her gift of a Steinway piano to be used in the Center for the Arts, and noted that Jewel Walker, Edward F. and Elizabeth Rosenberg Professor of Theatre, recently was the recipient of a 2005 Barrymore Award for Choreography and Movement for his original creation Tuesday.

In presenting the honorary doctor of humane letters degree to Stroman, P. Coleman Townsend, a member of UD’s Board of Trustees, praised her as “one of musical theatre’s greatest treasures, one of Delaware’s most celebrated citizens and one of the University of Delaware’s most distinguished graduates”

The honorary degree is the highest degree the University bestows. Past recipients include artist Jamie Wyeth, documentary film director Ken Burns, then President of Ireland Mary McAleese and former President George H.W. Bush.

“Perhaps the biggest turn in your career came when you met your late husband, producer and director Michael Ockrent, who later guided you through your Broadway debut as choreographer for Crazy for You, which also won you your first Tony for choreography, as well as the Drama Desk Award for best choreography, Outer Critics’ Circle Award for best choreography and London’s Olivier Award for best choreography,” Townsend said. “For the successful revival of Show Boat, . . . you won a second Tony Award for best choreographer.”

Further stage triumphs for Stroman, Townsend noted, include Trevor Nunn’s revival of Oklahoma, for which she won an Olivier Award for best choreography, and Contact, for which she garnered a Tony and Drama Desk Award for choreography and the Outer Critics’ Circle Award for best choreography and best director.

“Next followed the hit revival of The Music Man, for which you received Outer Critics Circle Award for best choreography and best director,” Townsend said. “Then, the blockbuster collaboration with Mel Brooks--The Producers, for which you won a Tony Award for best director and best choreography; Drama Desk Award for outstanding director of a musical and outstanding choreography; Outer Critics’ Circle Award for best choreography and best director and Astaire Award for best choreographer.”

Townsend also recalled Stroman’s induction into the alumni Wall of Fame in 1993 and her return to UD as a Winter Commencement speaker in 1994.

Susan Stroman: “In New York City, when you walk past a theatre that is dark, it feels like a death. So, to actually be at the site of an arts center and see a theatre being born was very emotional. It gave me the chills.”
“In your Commencement address to our students, you said ‘There is great truth in imagination,’” Townsend said. “For you many professional achievements and for your gift of imagination, we salute you and present you with the University’s highest honor, the honorary degree, doctor of humane letters.”

For Stroman, the award reception and dinner served as a personal homecoming and an example of UD’s commitment to the performing and creative arts.

“My time here as a student was a wonderful time, and I love being here now,” Stroman said. “The time I spent here today walking around the campus is the highlight of my year.”

Stroman expressed her gratitude for construction of UD’s Center for the Arts in an era of reduced budgets for the arts and the closing of many theatres nationwide.

“In New York City, when you walk past a theatre that is dark, it feels like a death,” Stroman said. “So, to actually be at the site of an arts center and see a theatre being born was very emotional. It gave me the chills.”

Stroman also noted that the Center for the Arts also will serve and inspire future generations of UD students to achieve their dreams in the realm of music, dance and theatre.

“I am so honored to be here tonight, and I can’t thank you enough,” Stroman said. “Art nurtures the soul, and that is how you find yourself. That is the way education works.”

After the degree presentation, a short clip from the movie version of The Producers, scheduled for release in mid-December, was shown. Stroman is the film’s director.

The evening was capped by performances of monologues by such authors as George Bernard Shaw and William Shakespeare by PTTP students Raymond Abdilamim Akbar, Cameron Morris Knight, Mike Matarrese, Gisela Lynn Chipe, Michael Joseph Midyett and Kelsey Jay Nash.

Family members attending the event included Stroman’s sister, Deborah Parsons, niece, Desiree Parsons, 15, nephews Travis Parsons, 17, and Maverick Parsons, 13, all of West Chester, Pa., her aunt, Phyllis Boyd, of Wilmington, and cousin, David Schweizer, of Boston.

Article by Jerry Rhodes
Photos by Duane Perry

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