Those of us who work in non-profit Arts Organizations realize the value of establishing relationships with generous benefactors. CATF enjoys a long standing partnership with Shepherd University. Shepherd is and always has been our most important benefactor. For 19 years Shepherd has hosted The Contemporary American Theater Festival. We are proud of our on-going partnership with this extraordinary Liberal Arts institution.

Shepherd University recently invited CATF playwright Richard Dresser to give the 2009 Commencement Address. You can read Dresser’s insightful remarks to the Class of 2009 in my previous posting. I want to share with you some of the emails that I have received from five Shepherd/CATF Alumni who are responding to Richard Dresser’s speech. Their comments demonstrate that our relationship with Shepherd and our mutual endeavor to “create the future of the American Theater” is working. Each of these former students/interns enjoy successful and productive careers in the professional theater. They all live and work in New York City. I am deeply touched by their comments. These are excerpts from their emails to Suzanne Shipley, President of Shepherd University:

From Audra Roberson, NY Stage Manager and a 2002 graduate of Shepherd University:

I recently received a copy of Rick Dresser’s Commencement speech and felt obligated to tell you how impressed I was with the speech itself and the fact that a CATF playwright was chosen for this honor…Thank you for appreciating the unique value of CATF at your Liberal Arts University. Thank you for recognizing how important the arts should and can be in every one’s life. By bringing Rick in for the Commencement speech you have honored not only your graduating class but the artists, audience members and Shepherd students that have discovered a part of themselves at CATF.”

From James McNeel, Arts Consultant, New York City and a 2001 graduate of Shepherd University and a former CATF Admin Intern.

“I wanted to drop you a short note as Ed Herendeen–my first and most important mentor–forwarded me the remarks that Rick Dresser made at the commencement. First and foremost–I’m jealous. I have zero recollection of who even spoke at my graduation; and certainly no retention of the speech. I hope Rick’s remarks were as powerful live  as it is on the page. Secondly, I couldn’t agree with him more…

I write because Dresser’s (who I still see from time to time; it’s a small field) points about the (blessedly unknown) future feel accurate and pertinent to my own journey. I cannot sing high enough praise about my experience with CATF, Ed, and Catherine. I say, without irony or cliche, that it changed my life… My closest friends to this day are still those I met at Shepherd and through doing theater there. And I can honestly say that my affection for Ed and CATF are not my own–we all share in it. Personally, I have encountered very few that have Ed’s passion and vision–it was infectious and inspiring when I was there as a student and it remains so ten years on…and do I hope that the relationship between the school and CATF continues to be strong and fruitful. I am so glad that you chose a CATF alum like Rick Dresser to speak to the graduates–he knocked it out of the park. As an arts professional–I am grateful; as a native West Virginian, I am proud.” 


From Ed McKeaney, General Manager THE WOOSTER GROUP and a 2001 Shepherd/CATF alumni:

I wanted to thank you for having Richard Dresser give the commencement speech at Shepherd this year. I had the good fortune to work with Richard Dresser and Ed Herendeen at CATF… Over four years…I served as the Assistant Box Office Manager, Company Manager, the Intern and Education Director and the first Assistant Managing Director. In addition, each summer I was given the honor of working alongside the most talented performers, playwrights, designers, technicians and fellow administrators…

CATF taught me more than just the basics of managing a company, taking a ticket sale, or creating an operating budget. It taught me the value of hard-work, perseverance, thoughtfulness, and to quote Richard’s inspiring speech, it taught me to “pursue what you love”. An invaluable life lesson that I will never forget.

I will be forever thankful to Ed and CATF for helping me to discover who I am and what I can be, and I will be forever thankful to Shepherd for taking a risk by hosting the Contemporary American Theater Festival. I applaud you for your choice in commencement speakers. Good show!”


From Stephanie Nasteff, actor and independent theater producer in New York City and a 1998 Shepherd/CATF alumni:

“…But the entire reason that I chose Shepherd in the first place was the CATF. I’m writing because I had the good fortune of reading a copy of Richard Dresser’s commencement speech–and was thrilled, not only by his ever hilarious and pointed words, but that a playwright was chosen to deliver this year’s address…I thought it would be nice to let you know how happy I was about your choice of speaker. The relationship between CATF and Shepherd is at the heart of the fondness I have for my college years, and I am truly inspired that that relationship continues to thrive in old ways and new.”


From Aaron Kliner, actor and director and a 2001 Shepherd/CATF alumni:

“During my time at Shepherd I was deeply immersed in your incredible theater program as well as the CATF. In fact under Ed Herendeen’s inspiring tutelage, I was awarded a full scholarship to a top-ranking acting conservatory, studied with key members of the ROYAL SHAKESPEARE COMPANY in London and received my MFA in 2005.

Needless to say, the impact Shepherd University has had on my life, along with its consortium with CATF, is hugh and deeply profound: I simply would not be where I am today without this kind of academic and professional nurturing…I found Richards words moving, heartfelt and entirely true. I wish I could have been there personally to hear his undoubtedly powerful delivery! I know Richard through my past experience at CATF and I’m extremely honored and proud that you would choose a CATF playwright as the University’s 2009 commencement speaker. So on behalf of Shepherd alumni everywhere and as a dear friend to CATF: Thank you.”


I am very proud of these former students and CATF interns. And I am proud of the extraordinary partnership that we have with Shepherd. In addition to our mission ” dedicated to producing and developing new American theater” the Contemporary American Theater Festival at Shepherd University is educating the next generation of professional artists and arts leaders. We are having a significant impact on the future. 

I want to thank those of you who have made contributions to support  our important CATF Intern program. As you can see from the above student comments: your support does make a difference! And I thank you on behalf of all of our CATF Interns. I hope that others will join you and consider making a contribution to the CATF Intern and Education Programs. Your gift can and will change lives.

I look forward to receiving your comments.

Ed Herendeen

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