Thanks to the wonderful generosity of Miki and Tom Melsheimer ’79, whose unsparing support has impacted the Jesuit Dallas community in numerous ways, Stage & Film is on the cusp of turning a once-remote corner of campus into a spirited hub of activity. The Melsheimer family has made a lead gift to ensure a full renovation of the School’s theater and performance space, bringing the cutting edge of technology to the program and marking Jesuit as a champion for the performing arts.
Six months after first opening its doors in 1942, Jesuit Dallas (known then as Jesuit High School) performed its first stage production. The re-telling of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was a spectacle. The show was covered extensively in the student paper while in production, and the cast of 20 Jesuit actors – playing both the male and female roles – shared their talents in front of a reported audience of 800 family and friends. The success of that first show invigorated the fledgling program and was an affirmation that the performing arts were both crucial in the development of a wellrounded education and a vibrant contributor to the life of the Jesuit Dallas community.
Cultivated by passionate moderators and fueled by consistent student interest, the program has continued to evolve for over 75 years. Now known as Jesuit Dallas Stage & Film, a full curricular offering with courses in stagecraft, theater arts, directing for theater, and filmmaking support the more-than 170 students who actively participate in the program.
space for meetings, band performances, and an auxiliary site for Mass, the facility has done a wonderful job of servicing the School, but the signs of wear had taken its toll. Chairs were missing; others on their last leg. Sound-dampening carpet was beginning to peel from the walls, and the room lacked professional lighting and acoustics. The only sound system was a portable unit borrowed from the band. The School has long had the reputation of emphasizing program over space, and stage & film, which has been as prominent as any extracurricular on campus, was a testament to that philosophy.
“The stage & film program has been something that we have followed for a long time,” shared Tom Melsheimer ’79. “I was in plays during my time as a student, and once did a film based on a fictional talk show called Inwood 2-Night that won an award in a state film competition. My wife, Miki, had been involved in drama both at the School and in her career, and the idea of creating a more accessible space for the students and community was something that really fit with our shared interests.”
Professionally known as Miki Bone, the mother of Jesuit alumni Jack ’11 and Jeff ’14, has worked in theater for over 30 years, including as managing director of Contemporary Theatre of Dallas and eight years as a member of the theater arts faculty at Ursuline Academy of Dallas. A Lifetime Institutional Member of the Texas Educational Theatre Association, one of her most recent projects, Division Avenue, premiered in NYC at the Midtown International Theatre Festival, and swept the awards with nine top honors.
“I often marveled at the work of the Jesuit students. On multiple occasions I have been so fascinated with how innovative those boys were with set design that I would circulate it to my contacts in the professional community. I’ve had the good fortune of watching the program grow and have just been so impressed by the commitment to excellence. Historically Jesuit has been known for having a great sports program, but one of the really nice things I discovered when our boys were there, is that Jesuit makes it possible for students to excel in so many different areas.”
Changes inside the performance space are already underway. Within the last year, new theater-style seating was installed, the stage was expanded by 26 feet to accommodate more ambitious sets, and state-of-the-art intelligent lighting and sound has completely transformed the potential within the venue. The next steps in the renovation of the Melsheimer Family Theater will be just as functional, but will create a physical gateway into stage & film commensurate with the program’s first-rate productions.
The next step in the plan starts with a reimagining of the front of the house, converting what is currently a boardroom and restrooms into a beautiful new entrance area and lobby. The renovation will create a spacious gathering center over 60-feet wide. The lobby will include seating and display areas, ticket booth, coat and hat check, and a concession area, and will be augmented by contemporary lighting and flooring. A window wall will be installed on the North wall facing St. Rita Catholic School, bringing in an abundance of additional natural light. The modified entryway will add a new and significant presence to the facility, and has been designed to display various art and memorabilia in replicating a professional theater entrance. From the lobby area, patrons will be able to move directly into the theater or leisurely enjoy a newly constructed outdoor courtyard. Designed to serve as a multi-purpose space, the courtyard will be accessible from the East and West breezeways. The plan for the refurbished courtyard is highlighted by a 40’x40’ gathering area covered by a vaulted glass atrium roofing system and a bubbling fountain as a grade-level amenity. Not only will the space become an attractive gathering point during intermissions of performances, but it will serve as an outdoor classroom during the school day, easily accommodating the average class size.
“Jesuit is without question one of the best investments we have ever made,” continued Tom. “In terms of our sons’ education as scholars and their formation as men of compassion, the experience at Jesuit is incredibly unique.”
“There is an empathy, and a real gain in emotional intelligence that I witnessed in my sons from their Jesuit education,” echoed Miki. “It’s hard to describe the way that the counselors, coaches, and teachers would recognize the goodness in your child, and how they would nurture their talents and interests. I’m very grateful as a parent for that experience.”
“We are such big fans of the performing arts, and I think that having the opportunity to support a first-class facility for live theater is empowering for the program and a great community builder, as it will bring people together,” surmised Tom. “I like that the School is not standing still in terms of its ambitions, and we are delighted to help in making possible something that will have such a positive impact. The theater is a wonderful place for us to address issues of our time and also to just come together and be entertained.”