Following a 60-year run, with more than 600 productions, Wayne State University’s Hilberry Theatre will take its final bow Nov. 20, 2022, after the last play is performed on its stage. The historic building will then begin its much-anticipated transformation into the Gretchen C. Valade Jazz Center.
“There is a great sense of readiness, joy and anticipation that everyone is feeling,” said Mary Anderson, chair of the Maggie Allesee Department of Theatre and Dance. “We do not feel that we are saying goodbye to the former Hilberry space, so much as we are making way for the incredible opportunity to build the Valade, a world-class jazz center that will feature our extraordinary educational music programming and also welcome guests from all over the world.”
In a nod to its early days of performing primarily Shakespearean works, the Maggie Allesee Department of Theatre and Dance in the College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts will present The Merry Wives of Windsor Nov. 11-20. Following that production, the department will transition into the new Hilberry Gateway next door, set to open in February 2023.
“Both the Gateway and the Valade give Wayne State the opportunity to fulfill its mission as an anchor institution in new ways,” said Anderson. “We have always been a hub for the campus and the community; now, we will have the facilities to welcome the campus and the community to help us build new stories, new relationships and new futures for the arts.”
Located at 4743 Cass Ave. in the heart of Midtown Detroit, the Hilberry Theatre was built in 1917 as the First Church of Christ Scientist. The building was bought by Wayne State in 1961 for $250,000. The university remodeled the church’s 60-foot stage and 1,512-seat auditorium into a 532-seat theater.
The structure was renamed the Hilberry Theatre in homage to Wayne State’s fourth president, Clarence B. Hilberry, and reopened in January 1964. The first play performed at the Hilberry Theatre was Shakespeare 400, which honored of the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth.
Throughout the Hilberry Theatre’s history, thousands of theatre students have pursued graduate degrees in acting, management and design. Each year, graduate students are involved in more than 100 performances in front of a public audience.
The Gretchen C. Valade Jazz Center will retain much of the classical architecture of the existing Hilberry Theatre. The new main entrance will be from Hancock Street and will highlight the columns that define the building. The jazz center will include a main performance space seating 350 and the Dee Dee Bridgewater space in the former Underground Theatre, which will seat 110.
The grand opening of the Gretchen C. Valade Jazz Center is currently planned for fall 2023. Tickets for the Merry Wives of Windsor — the Hilberry Theatre’s final play — are on sale now.