Leonard Leone, a Leading Light in University Theatre for More Than 50 Years, Dead at 92

Obituaries   Leonard Leone, a Leading Light in University Theatre for More Than 50 Years, Dead at 92 Leonard Leone, a major name in American university theatre and a significant influence in the careers of generations of artists who passed through the theatre program he founded, died June 5 at the age of 92.

He died in his sleep at his Berkley, MI, home, colleagues told Playbill.com.

Mr. Leone, a Detroit native born in the enclave known as Highland Park, founded Wayne State University's graduate Hilberry Theatre Company, a rare rotating repertory company in the university theatre scene.

The son of Italian immigrant grocers, Mr. Leone would become prominent in the Detroit community — and around the country — for establishing a respected and competitive theatre training program at Detroit-based Wayne State University, his alma mater.

Mr. Leone graduated from Berkley High School in Berkley, MI. He received a bachelor's and master's degree from Wayne State University. He later studied at the University of Wisconsin and at the University of Florence, Italy.

Mr. Leone taught speech in Detroit Public Schools from 1940-45. He became a speech professor at Wayne in 1945. That same year, he was appointed the director of theatre in the WSU department of theatre. Under Leone's leadership as director of WSU theatres from 1945 through 1985, Wayne State Theatre restored and reopened the historic Bonstelle Theatre (now used by the undergrad company) and created the Hilberry Theatre — establishing the nation's first and only existing graduate repertory company.

Mr. Leone also established a black theatre curriculum and touring company, a children's theatre touring company, and four international tours sponsored by the State Department, the Defense Department and the USO.

Over the years, he directed many graduate and undergraduate productions, and taught directing, theatre management and acting classes.

In 1963 Mr. Leone founded the Wayne State University department of theatre's jewel: the graduate repertory theatre company known as Hilberry Classic Theatre in association with the Graduate Performing Training Center. (It's now known as The Hilberry Theatre.) The first and only program of its kind in the country, the Hilberry provides training opportunities for more than 40 graduate students who are funded by scholarships and fellowships. Actors, directors, designers and theatre management students are immersed in a full-operation, fall-to-spring subscription season there.

Thorsten Kaye, David Ramsey, S. Epatha Merkerson, Tony Award-winning designer Martin Pakledinaz, Tom Sizemore, Max Wright and Erick Devine, David L. Regal are among the thousands of WSU theatre alumni. For many years the major Detroit papers reviewed both undergrad and grad shows there. Many Hilberry faculty members of recent years studied under Mr. Leone.

In cooperation with Keith Engar, University of Utah, Mr. Leone helped to establish University Resident Theatre Association (URTA) in 1969. It's now one of the nation's most important theatre associations.

In 1973 Mr. Leone was appointed Chairman of the American College Theatre Festival Central Committee, coordinating activities of 13 Regional Festivals and Washington National Festival.

Later, from 1980-82, Leone was elected vice president for programs of the American Theatre Association.

In February 1979 he was the recipient of the American College Theatre Festival's Gold Medallion Award of Excellence. Later that year, Mr. Leone developed the International Symposium for the Reconstruction of Shakespeare's Globe. Distinguished world scholars presented papers at Symposium, held at Wayne State University in May 1979.

In 1980 Mr. Leone established an Advisory Committee for the reconstruction of Shakespeare's Globe on Detroit River Front – a cooperative project with Wayne State and the City of Detroit. A year later he edited and published "Feasibility Study on the Globe Project." A Shakespearean theatre on Motown's waterfront did not materialize.

According to WSU, Mr. Leone retired from the department of theatre at the end of the 1984-85 season. Hundreds of theatre alumni, members of the Detroit theatre community, past and present faculty members and loyal patrons gathered in the lobby of the Hilberry Theatre to congratulate and thank him "for his dedication to teaching the craft of acting and for his contributions to theatre."

During the 2004-05 season, the department celebrated Mr. Leone's 90th birthday.

Into his 90s, he continued to attend Wayne State theatre performances.

For more information about WSU theatres, visit www.hilberry.com.

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