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Today @ Sam

Mainstage Named For One Of Its Former 'Stars'

April 20, 2010
SHSU Media Contacts: Jennifer Gauntt


The Univeristy Theatre Center's Mainstage Theatre has been named after former theatre major Erica Starr Czerwinski, who died in an automobile accident March 14, 1999. It is now called the Erica Starr Theatre, after Czerwinski's stage name.   —Submitted photo

In April 1999, the Sam Houston State University theatre production of “Brigadoon” was dedicated in memory of Erica Starr Czerwinski, a theatre major who was killed by a drunk driver the previous month.

“She had been chosen to run the light board in the control booth and was so excited and looking forward to her next accomplishment,” said her parents Mike and Nancy Czerwinski. “This was never fulfilled as she was called home to dance in God’s light.”

A little more than 11 years later, the same theatre in which “Brigadoon” was performed—the University Theatre Center’s Mainstage Theatre—has been named in honor of Erica Starr.

The Czerwinskis, who have been supporting theatre students for years through an endowment and scholarship in their daughter’s name, established the Erica Starr Live Your Dream Memorial Theatre Endowment in October through a pledged contribution to the Share the Vision capital campaign.

For their generosity, the SHSU Department of Theatre and Dance has renamed its Mainstage Theatre as the Erica Starr Theatre.

“At first, we settled for naming prominent rooms after Erica Starr (her stage name),” the Czerwinskis said. “After working with friends and family to finance three smaller namings, we knew we would not be satisfied until her name was on the theatre.

“Naming the theatre after Erica Starr is not just for our family but for Jim, Tom, Maureen, Penny, Kristina, Larry and the entire theatre group who became part of Erica Starr’s family and provided friendship as well as education,” Mike said.

Erica Czerwinski was a “creative and talented young woman,” according to theatre department chair Penny Hasekoester, whose interests evolved from being “the star” to the more technical aspects of theatre.

“The theatre program fit her so well because they had all the workshops after class, and she liked being hands-on,” Nancy said. “She wasn’t afraid to crawl under a set and screw it together when everyone else thought they were too big of a star to do any of that.

“Erica was just engrossed in it,” she said. “She loved it.”

The naming of the theatre and the endowments have been “a dream come true” for the Czerwinskis, they said.

“Nancy has bought a ticket for the lottery for the past 10 years in hopes of a winner. Her plans were always to turn it over, the big winner, to SHSU and name the Theatre Center after Erica,” Mike said. “Any money left over would go to building a free parking garage for students to park.

“There is an old proverb that says if your name is repeated and never forgotten, you will live forever,” he said. “We felt that by having her name on the theatre would mean that Erica would live forever as her name would be repeated forever.”

The Czerwinskis said that supporting students through endowments was an easy decision to make due to Erica’s giving nature and her love for SHSU.

“Our world is not perfect and not everyone goes to school four-to-five years. In this program, even after the first or second year, a student will learn what life and teamwork is about and how to use their hands and minds to physically create and challenge new opportunities,” the Czerwinskis said. “They learn the hardships of losing when you don’t make the audition, but the professors continue to work with them personally and give them the courage to try again and to learn how to become better and to be successful. They learn how to stand alone on stage and communicate to a large audience, a talent required for any business professional.

“Until you are involved with it, you don’t know how good it is,” Mike said.

During the Saturday evening performance of “Rent,” the first production held in the official Erica Starr Theatre on April 24, there will be an announcement to commemorate the name change.

“Erica’s untimely passing was a terrible loss, and she is remembered with great fondness by her fellow students and the SHSU faculty and staff,” Hasekoester said. “Thanks to the generosity of her parents, her family and her friends, two scholarships have been created in her name that will allow her memory to continue. “The SHSU Department of Theatre and Dance is honored to be the recipient of such a gift,” she said. “We thank the Czerwinskis and all who have contributed to make this come about.”


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