Tears, tributes flow during Keith Harris gallery dedication
The house was full, packed with memories of days gone by and those yet to come. Eyes were bright from the tears of happiness, the nostalgia of the surroundings, and the mirth of stories shared.
Nearly 200 former colleagues, alumni, family, friends, and staff attended the dedication of the new Keith Harris Scenic Design Gallery on June 25 in the balcony lobby of the Main Stage Theatre at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.
The new gallery pays homage to the talents of a legend within the UW-Parkside Theatre Department: Keith Harris, who retired from Parkside in 2018. During his over 30 years at UW-Parkside, Harris created drawings and scale models of sets known as maquettes that were used for teaching and collaborating on set creation. These works of art now have a permanent home for theatre students, staff, and the general public to admire.
Last Saturday’s gathering was held at UW-Parkside's Rita Tallent Picken Regional Center for Arts & Humanities. The event started with an open house, where alumni and former staff witnessed the many changes that have been made at The Rita and the Theatre Department. The audience was treated to a technical demonstration of the theatre’s new lights and projectors that continue to make Parkside’s Theatre Department cutting edge. Following the demonstration, Theatre Arts Department Chair Misti Bradford took to the podium to welcome the crowd and to invite Theatre Arts Professor Emeritus Lisa Kornetsky to speak.
Kornetsky, who joined Parkside in 1985, worked for months gathering materials about Harris’ work for the gallery. “I feel particularly fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with him (Harris) for so many years and to continue our friendship, and have it continue to grow and develop in our post Parkside years,” Kornetsky said. “It’s been a long time of knowing one another, of collaborating on productions, of planning, of brainstorming, talking and sharing our lives, and laughing together a lot, I would say. Today, we have the opportunity to see the wonderful and to revisit the wonderful models and renderings from Keith’s career.”
Professor Emeritus Skelly Warren spoke next, leading a toast to Harris’ legacy. “… We could say his legacy is his impeccable, professional theatre that he built. … Or we could say his legacy is the work he did for the department that he did by the way for free. … Or we could say his legacy is his intense passion for theatre, which we all love. … Or his legacy is you, all of you. And that’s what it is Keith, all of these people. To Keith Harris.”
“To Keith Harris,” was echoed by the crowd as they toasted Harris with champagne.
After hugging his former colleague, Harris took to the podium and offered a quote from a Mark Twain key chain that he carried for 27 years.
“Do the right thing. It will gratify some and astonish the rest,” he said. “I have tried to live Mark Twain’s words, ‘Do the right thing’ for my entire career. Fortunately, I have been surrounded by family, colleagues, administrators, students, and friends that I did not want to let down. I owe it to you to do the right thing. Nothing less would have been acceptable.”
Former students and colleagues paid tribute after tribute to the creativity, warmth, and humanity that Harris brought to UW-Parkside before immersing themselves in the new Keith Harris Scenic Design Gallery.