A storybook career is entering its final stage as theater professor Gary E. Dartt is retiring from Georgia Southern University.
“There comes a time when you just have to stop,” Dartt said.
After 23 years at Georgia Southern, Dartt's final production opens Wednesday. Directed by Dartt, “The Visit” tells the story of Claire Zachanassian, (played by Statesboro Community favorite Carol Thompson) a former resident of the fictional town of Güllen who has come to “help” with the financial crisis the town is facing.
The play runs through Saturday at the Performing Arts center, with shows each night at 7:30. Tickets may be purchased at the door on the night of the performances on a first-come, first-served basis or by calling the PAC Box Office at 478-7999. Prices are $5 for students and children, $10 for faculty and staff, $15 for general admission.
Dartt's journey through the arts began during his childhood in Wall, S.D., with the support of his parents, both music teachers.
Dartt became interested in puppetry, so his mother purchased a large cardboard box and cut a proscenium into it. This incident served as Dartt's introduction into theater.
“We rigged Christmas tree lights and a pull curtain in it,” Dartt said. “Then my mother bought some manufactured marionettes that were available, so that was my first dabble in the theater end of it.”
Dartt landed a job with a new theater in Minnesota, known as the Guthrie Theater, where he worked in the props and scenery area as an assistant. Dartt used this opportunity to evolve his skills.
“I got my hands dirty,” Dartt said. “I learned how to do all of the stuff because the union carpenters were not yet working on it, so that was very interesting.”
Dartt received his degree from the University of Minnesota and was then hired by Mankato State College in Mankato, Minnesota as a scene designer when he was 24 years old. Over the years, he would work for Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Fordham University Lincoln Center in New York City, John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin and the Old Bay Playhouse in St. Mary's County, Maryland.
Throughout his career journey, Dartt began searching for another university. He was offered three positions, all in the South-University of South Carolina; Columbia, Georgia Southern University and Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina.
“They all had appealing things about them, but it turned out that I came [to GSU],” Dartt said. “We settled here [and] we liked it, so we stayed.”
Georgia Southern's theater department was much different in 1988 than it is now. Dartt began his work at GSU long before the inception of the Performing Arts Center and the Center for Art and Theater. He initially executed shows in the Administration Building's auditorium, which still stands today.
“When I walk through those doors I go back 23 years,” Dartt said. “It's still filled with the same ghosts that were there when I was working there, basically untouched.”
As time passed, Dr. Bruce Grube became GSU's new president and then began the design and construction of the Center for Art and Theater. Dartt and others offered their input during the construction of the building.
“They let us in completely and not only that, but we attended every meeting with the architects, with the theater people, and with the university architect,” Dartt said. “Kelly Berry and [I] spent a lot of time on it, and we just oversaw the whole thing.” According to Dartt, the Center for Art and Theater has a bright future. Students in the distant future will be able to use it, and this is in part due to Dartt's vision.
“I see the [Center for Art and Theater] as a 100-year theater,” Dartt said. “I think this building will be serviceable to the university for 100 years, and with the big proscenium house across the way, the Performing Arts Center, we have wonderful facilities now.”
Looking back on his 23 years at GSU, Dartt expressed his satisfaction with the Fine Arts program.
“I'm just really happy that I was here [for] 23 years helping to develop it,” Dartt said. “I was there during the critical times when they built the new buildings, and yes I suffered for about 18 years without them, but at this point I think nobody has anything better than what we have in the whole country, and people tell me that.”
Dartt will leave behind a memorable legacy in GSU's Fine Arts program, and he wishes to be remembered as someone who made the traditional classic plays appeal to the new generation of students.
“I would like to be remembered for [producing] traditional great plays and great classic plays and for allowing a new generation to enjoy them and realize how important they are.” Dartt said.
Although his career is coming to a close, he emphasizes that the torch would be passed to the new generation.
“We carry the lighted flame,” Dartt said. “That's what we do as educators, and [we] let someone else carry it to another place and see what ideas they come up with.”