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Raymond Caldwell Endowment Fund sets stage for future of theatre in East Texas

Created to honor founder of Texas Shakespeare Festival
Raymond Caldwell Endowment Fund officially being announced today at the Van Cliburn Auditorium...
Raymond Caldwell Endowment Fund officially being announced today at the Van Cliburn Auditorium at Kilgore College.(KLTV)
Published: Jul. 5, 2021 at 6:50 PM CDT
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TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - Rounds of applause filled the Van Cliburn Auditorium at Kilgore College today. Not for a performance, but for the official announcement of an endowment fund that will ensure a strong future of theatre in East Texas.

The fund has been named after Raymond Caldwell, the founder and former artistic director of the Texas Shakespeare Festival.

“An endowment fund is like a savings account that grows with interest. So people put money into the endowment fund, we never touch that principal, but the interest that’s raised can be used, five percent, can be used each year if needed,” Caldwell said.

They hope they don’t have to use it, but Meaghan Simpson, artistic director for the Texas Shakespeare Festival said the fund will allow them to focus less rigorously on fundraising and put more effort toward other areas.

“We have a lot of goals that cost money. Things like renovating a scene shop, and someday we want to build, possibly, a dorm or a living facility,” she said. “We want to update some of our technology and the items that we have around our festival center.”

Simpson said she feels their future is secure thanks to the relationship between the Texas Shakespeare Foundation and Kilgore College. The endowment fund is a bonus. It’s currently sitting at about $1.5 million pledged, according to Simpson, with a goal of $5 million.

“What the endowment does for us is it gives us that breathing room to say now we can really kind of push beyond what we’ve ever dreamed of doing,” Simpson said. “We can make it so that we can take maybe a few more risks, do some larger musicals, we can maybe expand areas of our company.”

During the ceremony they also announced the Honorary Chairman for the endowment fund and Texas Shakespeare Foundation alumnus as Michael C. Hall. He is currently in production on a new series revival of “Dexter.”

“Michael C. Hall was an actor here for us in 1995. At that time he was a graduate student at New York University which is where I met him and where he auditioned for me,” Caldwell said. “He was a wonderful actor, very talented. He did three major roles while he was here and we’ve kept up with his career ever since.”

Caldwell wants to be clear that the actors in the festival come from all over and are professional actors.

“It’s not Kilgore College students doing Shakespeare plays in the summer. I understand they’re thinking that because it is at Kilgore College and always has been, but it’s always been a professional theatre,” he said. “We go coast to coast auditioning professional actors and bringing them into town for ten weeks. All the shows are designed, directed, and performed by professional theatre artists, not junior college students. Although we do use Kilgore College students as interns both onstage and backstage.”

It’s vital to Caldwell that the theatre has a strong foundation in East Texas. He said Kilgore is lucky to be the host for such a prestigious, professional theatre.

“You’ll be hard pressed to find another junior college in the whole state of Texas or elsewhere that has a professional theatre company on its campus,” Caldwell said. “I think it’s a real opportunity for lovers of theatre and of the arts in this entire area to have professional quality, professional caliber theatre right here in their backyard.”

In all his years working in theatre Caldwell said he always told his students and he believes that theatre is psychology in action.

“The whole art of doing plays is to study human behavior. How we behave, why we behave, that way, how we react to other people. You can learn so much about yourself and about humanity and mankind by studying the theatre, by being in plays. I did,” he said. “And I’m prejudiced, of course, but to me it’s been like a religion, I’ve learned more about the world and my fellow human beings and how to love them and accept them than I learned anywhere else.”

The theatre currently has four plays running right now. They are doing 100 percent seating capacity and masks are optional. For tickets or more information you can visit their website.

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