Theatre Festival to feature Nita West Stage dedication
From Maryville College
Maryville College, the Clayton Center for the Arts and members of the West and Ramsey families will dedicate the Nita Eckles West Stage in the Clayton Center just prior to the start of the center’s 2012 Theatre Festival.
The dedication ceremony is scheduled for roughly 5:45 p.m. Friday before the curtain rises on the epic musical “Ragtime.” Maryville College President Dr. Tom Bogart and Steve West, great-grandson of Nita Eckles West and a member of the college’s board of directors, are expected to speak.
The 4,134-square-foot stage, located in the Ronald and Lynda Nutt Theatre, is named for Nita West, who started the theater department in 1899 and taught drama and speech at Maryville College for 42 years.
Steve West and Lynn Ramsey Cole, a granddaughter of Nita West, spoke of their ancestor’s incredible legacy back in 2008, when they announced the families’ $1 million gift to the Clayton Center and the decision to name the stage for her.
In a 2008 interview with a college staff member, Cole described her grandmother as a “professional woman” who worked hard and had high standards for herself and those around her.
Indeed, the college’s Department of Expression and Public Speaking grew under Nita West’s direction, as did its good reputation, according to historians Arda Walker and Carolyn Blair in their book, “By Faith Endowed: The Story of Maryville College, 1819-1994.”
During Nita West’s tenure, the Leland Powers School in Boston, Mass., accepted Maryville credits toward graduation, “a privilege not extended to any other college at that time,” the historians wrote, adding that in 1927, the college was admitted to membership in the national drama fraternity Theta Alpha Phi, “becoming the only school out of 14 applicants to be admitted during a three-year period.”
As someone who frequently dressed in floral-print dresses, her finest hat, gloves and patent-leather shoes, Nita West paid special attention to cast members’ costumes and took great pride in the costume collection she assembled for the department.
In 2008, Steve West said the families’ motivation for the gift was what the performing arts center would mean for the college and what it would mean for the community. Cole pointed out that scores of her grandmother’s drama productions were for the community and that the public looked forward to them.
“For Granny to have her name associated with the Clayton Center would thrill her to death,” Cole said. “She never craved the spotlight, but in a quiet way, she would be thrilled.”