By Dale King
Tradition has it that actors love to see their name in lights.
A Boca Raton arts aficionado and longtime philanthropist has just solidified her own presence in dramaturgical nomenclature. Florida Atlantic University’s Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters announced earlier this month that it had received a $1.125 million gift from benefactor Marleen Forkas to name the university’s Studio One Theatre after the woman often seen seated in the front row during shows.
The theater serves as a production and performance training venue for students, and public events are also held there throughout the year. The center is temporarily closed and the schedule of productions suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Marleen has been a benefactor of the arts and a friend to many of our students and faculty in the program for several years,” said Tom Shorrock, chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance at FAU.
“Her generosity has been instrumental in helping the arts and our students — advocating for the importance of the arts for today and future generations, creating the Forkas Fellowship for Summer Repertory Theatre to help support our students in their summer semesters, and most recently the generous naming gift to help ensure that our program continues to bring live theater to the community and quality education to students for years to come.”
This latest donation continues to build Forkas’ legacy across FAU’s Boca Raton campus. She and her late husband, Harold, were benefactors of the university for more than 20 years.
In May 2018, she established the Marleen Forkas Festival Repertory Theatre Endowed Graduate Fellowships in support of master of fine arts in theatre graduate students. That drew a warm note of gratitude from an MFA alumnus who graduated that year.
“I can’t thank Marleen enough for this gift,” said Sean Patrick Gibbons, who performed in such Studio One productions as The Diary of Anne Frank, The Government Inspector and the Last Days of Judas Iscariot, among others. “It is so, so vital during these unprecedented times that there are people like her who give back to an art form that is so deeply rooted in humanity.”
University officials said her gift will allow for ongoing and significant renovations, including state-of-the art audio upgrades and equipment enhancements.
“It is vital that we have state-of-the-art facilities and equipment for our students to be well-prepared for future careers,” said Michael Horswell, dean of the Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, in a prepared statement “This gift clearly shows Marleen’s love of the arts and especially of our students whose lives she continues to enrich through her generosity and her continued presence at our performances.”
Two years ago, Marleen Forkas donated $300,000 to Symphonia Boca Raton, the Boca-based chamber orchestra. The money was used to launch the Marleen Forkas Connoisseur Concert Series in 2018-19.
That same year, she also donated $50,000 to the Wick Theatre. Forkas was in the audience the night that owner and managing executive producer Marilynn Wick announced the gift. The audience responded with resounding applause. To recognize Forkas’ contribution, the theater named the concession area of the lobby in her honor.
Forkas also has been involved with other local organizations including the Boca Raton Regional Hospital Foundation, B’nai Torah Congregation, Boca Ballet Theatre, the American Heart Association, Boca Raton Museum of Art and the Marleen Forkas Camps at the Jewish Community Center.
“The arts bring beauty and expression to the world,” Forkas said in a prepared statement. “My hope is that the Marleen Forkas Studio One Theatre will continue to be a place for students and the community to immerse themselves in the essence of theater and the arts, and that they will carry that experience with them for the rest of their lives.”