The Harlene Marley Theater, located on Gaskin Avenue near the North Campus Apartments and Bexley Hall, will be formally dedicated as part of events celebrating the 50th anniversary of co-education at Kenyon, in 2019.
“The naming of the building only starts to express the importance of Harlene Marley to the campus and the influence she had on so many people,” said lighting designer and cinematographer William Adashek ’05, one of the donors.
Thomas R. Moore ’72 said his contribution to the theater is the biggest charitable gift he’s ever made to any cause. “As far as I’m concerned, she’s a hero of the College,” Moore said. “So are all of the women in the Class of ’73 and everyone who helped make Kenyon co-ed. It was an amazing time.”
Marley was born in Oklahoma and received a bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma City University and a master of fine arts degree from Carnegie Mellon University. She came to Kenyon in 1969 with the College’s first class of female students. Marley was the first woman hired into a tenure-track position at Kenyon, and she became a full professor in 1987.
Edward Ball ’88 also contributed to the naming of the theater space in Marley’s honor. He said, “Her turf was the Hill Theater. She taught with an iron fist bedecked with a multitude of rings that would click when she wiggled her fingers while commenting on something ‘wonnnnnderful.’ Those hands were powerful.”
Marley died in 2017, just a few weeks after the new theater space opened. This building is larger and has better access than the black box’s previous location, the 1905 bank building on Chase Avenue. That building was demolished in 2016 to make way for a modern Village Market with new student apartments above.
Now the experimental theater space is in a building of 2,000 square feet, with 900 square feet of performance space that can be framed by risers to seat about 75 people. The Harlene Marley Theater also has a green room for actors awaiting their cue, a storage room and fully accessible bathrooms. Each semester, the theater hosts several student productions and serves as a lab for classes such as Drama 243: “The Lighting Designer.”
Adashek used this new theater space when he returned to Gambier for one semester as a visiting assistant professor of drama, and said the students needed such a flexible performance space with modern equipment. But for him, the focus remains on Marley.
She developed an impressive list of acting and directing credits, on campus and off. For her work with the Kennedy Center’s American College Theater Festival, organizers presented Marley with its National Distinguished Service Award.
Moore was a student included on Marley’s interview for the Kenyon job, then she became his advisor.
“She taught me how to manage. The drama program was Kenyon’s version of an MBA program: We had to sell tickets, advertise the show, build sets and create costumes within our budget. What if you broke a bulb while you were rehearsing a show? How would that affect the staging?” Moore said. “She was amazing.”
Ball visited Marley less than a year before her death. He said, “I'm still not through talking to her. There wasn't enough time; there could never have been enough time. I don't have to love that brutal reality even as I can love my good fortune to have known this human being, of a certain magnitude, who lived in the form of action, not narrative.”