The Tradition of Jesuit Theater Comes to Life at Fairfield University

By Peter van Heerden, Director, Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts

Peter van Heerden (Fairfield University)


Peter van Heerden (Fairfield University)

As a distinguished liberal arts institution, Fairfield University is committed to providing its many constituencies — students, staff, faculty and members of the public — with access to culturally enriching programming in the visual and performing arts. 

The University designs artistic experiences that highlight and deepen audience understanding of the breadth of human creativity across different cultures and historical periods. At Fairfield, we are particularly well poised to present such robust cultural offerings through our core arts spaces: a fine arts museum (Bellarmine Museum of Art); an art gallery (Thomas J. Walsh Art Gallery) devoted to temporary, special exhibitions; and a performing arts center (Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts), which offers a diverse annual program of performances and lectures to our audiences in a world-class facility. 

Working in concert with our faculty, these arts institutions foster intellectual, cultural and curricular enrichment, and serve as inviting and accessible points of engagement for audiences of all ages, education levels and socio-economic backgrounds.  

The mission of the Quick Center is to create a dynamic and inclusive visual and performing arts center for the whole community that inspires intellectual curiosity, broadens perspectives and transforms the way we see the world and how we interact with one another. The Quick Center is an expression of the University’s Jesuit mission to develop the creative and intellectual potential of our community, including members of the Fairfield University community and the residents of greater Fairfield County and beyond.

The Quick Center then, performs its mission in continuity with the long tradition of Jesuit theater. For hundreds of years, Jesuit institutions used the theater as a way to further their mission of evangelization, and to better reach their communities, at times, for instance, forming companies that would offer their work as a way to reach at-risk youth or under-served populations who would not otherwise have the opportunity to experience live theater. Though the Quick Center offers a much wider range of arts experiences, we believe it works in continuity with this specifically Jesuit heritage, offering enlightening and enriching cultural expressions to those that might not typically have such an in-depth experience. 

As we move further into a digital age where experiences are mediated through technology, the live arts experience is more vital and important than ever. I am always in awe and moved by the beautiful and powerful moment at the end of a live performance when the house lights come up and the entire audience  — bound by what they have just experienced — erupts into applause: in that one moment, a community is harnessed and created.

It is with the importance of these live experiences fresh in our minds that in celebration of our 25th anniversary season, the Quick Center launched the Arts Education and Outreach Fund. The aim of the fund is to develop infrastructure in support of the programmatic work we do in serving the broader community through developing meaningful educational programming in the arts. Such breadth in programming is designed to accommodate the interests and learning needs of an incredibly diverse audience, which is drawn from a broad demographic range. It equally ensures that participants can maximize the many informal learning opportunities that we will provide through multi-modal, multi-sensory programming and activities. 

Since the beginning of our annual School Matinee Series, we have provided live theatre experiences to grades Pre-K through 12, exposing young people to opportunities that enhance their learning, ignite creativity and offer a new view of the world around them. Through integrated school learning, we have positioned Quick Center artists in school classrooms and facilitated artist-in-residence programs, that position teaching artists from the stage to lead educational and curriculum-based activities with local community groups and schools. The fund has enabled us to serve over 5,000 school children annually with educational experiences in the visual and performing arts.

The work and experiences enabled through the support of the fund have ensured a more robust programmatic structure that integrates community, faculty and students, showcasing the importance of the arts as an integral educational tool that should not be seen as an add-on, but as part of the fabric that weaves and holds society together.

In our 25th anniversary year, we are focused on who we are becoming and the role the arts play in nurturing creativity and creating community. The arts are to be shared by all.

For more information on the Quick Center, please visit quickcenter.fairfield.edu.