Father Schubert: A Professional Shakespeare Festival

The thought of a professional Shakespeare Festival had been germinating over a 15-year period from 1974-1989. Each August, Brother Jim McCabe and I made an annual trek to The Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario, Canada. We usually saw three Shakespeare plays and one or two other classics. The consistently powerful productions school us to the bone.

During our nine-hour drive home from Stratford, August 1989, I mused aloud, “Why doesn’t someone build a Professional Shakespeare Festival in eastern Pennsylvania? Brother Jim, in his quiet matter of fact way simply said, “Why don’t you work on it, Jerry?” The rest of the trip home we puzzled over the possibilities. The Labuda Center would provide a wonderful facility for staging professional Shakespeare productions. The Theater Department had accomplished artists on the faculty capable of making creative contributions to a professional company. Our large pool of talented undergraduate theater students and alumni would gain valuable experience interning in a professional company.

While thinking over the financial hurdles and marketing challenges to attract an audience such a venture would entail, a line from the movie The Field of Dreams came to mind, “Build it and they will come.” It struck me that the boldness of the mantra fits everything the Theater Department accomplished during its 20-year run up to that time. Was I mad to think we could take another giant step? Could an undergraduate Theater Department really spin off a successful professional theater company? In pondering this Shakespeare vision, I had the conviction that God was telling me to do some more building. Finally, I thought, “Why not?”

Our efforts in founding and building the Theater Department and ACT ONE grew out of the faith that Callahan’s and my work as theater artists and educators would give “beauty back to God, beauty’s Self and beauty’s Giver,” as poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote. The more God gives, the more you can give back. We built the Department, and we gave back its artistic and educational fruits to God. A Shakespeare Festival at Allentown College would spring up from a program already flourishing as a rich field of beauty. If God planted this dream of a professional Shakespeare Festival it would bloom and if not it would wither no matter how rich the soil. Like the old saying about beauty, God is as God does.

By PSF Founder Gerard J. Schubert, O.S.F.S (1929 – 2015)

Father Schubert was a professional Oblate of St. Francis DeSales for 65 years.

The above is an excerpt from his book Give Beauty Back which was published by generous gifts from the Schubert family and others sent to the Oblates of Saint Francis DeSales following his burial in December 2015.

The reference in this excerpt to “Callahan” is to Bill Callahan, the co-founder of Allentown College’s Theater Department and one of Father Schubert’s former acting teachers at Catholic University.