Nafe Katter's Legacy Lives on in New Drama Production Facility

By Grace Merritt

Nafe KatterThough he was retired, Nafe Katter gave $1 million to UConn's acting program 15 years ago to build a new theater on campus.

It was a sizable gift for a faculty member to give, but Nafe, the former director of UConn's acting program, felt it was important for students to learn how to act on a three-sided thrust stage. He wanted them to master the nuance required by that level of intimacy with the audience.

His determination to provide exceptional facilities for his students continues even today, five years after his death. Through a gift of appreciated stock and a bequest totaling $650,000, Nafe is making it possible for the School of Fine Arts to buy equipment and furniture for a new production facility now under construction there. He made the gift several years ago after noticing that the state's budget for the planned project did not include money for equipment needed to furnish workshops and offices.

The production facility—which will open in 2020—will house state-of-the-art equipment for carpentry, welding, painting, sewing, and electrical workshops where students will build and paint sets as well as build and sew costumes for Department of Dramatic Arts productions.

Rendering of building

An artist's rendering of the new School of Fine Arts production facility, supported by Nafe Katter's gift to UConn's dramatic arts program.

As a result, students will no longer have to build sets in the cramped lower level of Jorgensen Auditorium across campus. The new space will have better air quality and dust control and will be outfitted with technologically advanced equipment.

"This is going to allow us to do a much, much better job of preparing students for the modern workforce," says Ed Weingart, assistant professor of technical direction in the Department of Dramatic Arts.

"Students will leave here with hands-on experience that theater production companies demand these days," he says. "It will also make our department much more competitive on the recruiting front, which is great for the University."

Floor Layout

Theatre Production Facility, First Floor

The production facility is part of a larger $37 million fine arts renovation that includes site utility upgrades, replacing the roof, updating the façade, and connecting the fine arts complex with a corridor, courtyard, and front entrance.

Professor Emeritus Jack Nardi, who worked closely with Nafe for years as the department's technical director, said the equipment gift exemplifies Nafe's enduring commitment.

"I think that Nafe understood the whole picture," he says. "Even though his focus was directing, acting, and performance, he realized what kicks off the whole thing is production. This facility is a testament to his dedication to the department."

You can make a gift to support programs and projects like Nafe Katter did—gifts of any size make a big difference. Contact Gregory Knott at (860) 336-1468 or giftplanning@foundation.uconn.edu to get started.

Nafe Katter's Lasting Impact

Pearl Matteson

Pearl Matteson '19

When Pearl Matteson was 11, a friend told her that a community theater group was looking for a young girl to play the part of Ngana in South Pacific.

"You should audition. What do you have to lose?" the friend told Pearl.

Pearl, of course, got the part. And promptly got the acting bug.

Next, she landed a role in Evita and kept auditioning, winning roles in more and more musicals. She went on to the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts in Hartford.

Now, thanks to a scholarship from Professor Emeritus Nafe Katter, Pearl is a senior at UConn, majoring in acting. She has performed in many plays at the school, studied Shakespeare in London, sharpened her skills, and is ready to head out into the world to make her mark.

Winning this scholarship has made a great impression on her. Pearl, who was adopted in China and raised by her American mother in Wethersfield, Connecticut, says the scholarship made it possible for her to attend UConn.

"Without the scholarship I would not be able to pay for college, for sure," she says. "I'm very, very fortunate to be in my senior year because we are on one income."

But even more so, Pearl is both honored and grateful that she has received a scholarship created by the venerable Nafe Katter himself. She has researched him and knows what a legend he was in the School of Fine Arts, having directed the acting department, influenced generations of acting students, and financed the thrust theater on campus.

"Having a scholarship in his name makes it more important," Pearl says. "It's an honor, it's a blessing. It's something that I'm very grateful for. He'll always be a name that I'll remember."