Almost 90 years ago, Dolly Smith’s grandfather built Main Hall.
Now, she and her husband, Ken, are boosting the theater program that thrives within its walls. They have established the Dolly Awards, which recognize the excellent work being done by Wagner’s theater students.
Dolly Smith’s family has long roots with Wagner. Her grandfather, Otto Koehler, was the contractor who constructed Main Hall in 1929–30. Her father, Dan Lorey, oversaw the construction of Guild Hall in 1951.
Dolly married fellow Staten Islander Ken Smith at Trinity Lutheran Church in 1952, with Pastor Frederic Sutter presiding. Pastor Sutter, of course, was the Wagner graduate and trustee who was responsible for bringing the College to Staten Island in 1918.
The Smiths’ personal connection with Wagner started years later, when President Norman Smith (no relation) became their neighbor on Howard Avenue. During his presidency, from 1987 to 2002, the College rented the house next to theirs for the president.
Through President Smith, they became familiar with Wagner and its theater program. They bought season tickets and were enchanted with the productions, and they have attended each season since. They also became members of the Inner Circle, Wagner’s leadership donor society. Since President Smith’s retirement, they have enjoyed the friendship of President Richard Guarasci.
“We sort of took Wagner under our wing,” says Ken Smith. “Both Norman and Richard did great things for Wagner.”
Last year, Ken was thinking about what to give Dolly for her 85th birthday. He thought about awards programs like the Tonys and the Oscars and wondered why Wagner College Theatre didn’t have anything like that. Plus, he knew the perfect name: the Dollys. “It was part of appreciating the tremendous productions at Wagner, from staging to performing to costumes to design, the whole works,” he says.
Dolly Smith chimes in with her agreement. For years, they attended New York’s top performing companies, like the New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, and Metropolitan Opera; they also made annual trips to London to take in shows. They say that Wagner College Theatre is just as good, especially considering the constraints of the Main Hall theater — which was built as a multi-purpose room, originally used for everything from basketball games to chapel services.
The Smiths’ intention is that Dolly Awards recognize the top two students each year in any aspect of theatrical production, whether on stage or behind the scenes.
For the inaugural Dolly Awards of 2018, the faculty chose Joanna Catalano ’18 for design and Emma Pittman ’18 for performance. Each received a $750 award and a crystal statuette.
“The WCT faculty, staff, and students were delighted to have Ken and Dolly Smith join us on stage to present the first ever Dolly Awards,” says department chair and professor Felicia Ruff. “We are honored that they donated so generously to our department. The fact that their connection to Wagner College is exclusively through the shows we produce gives value to our labor of love — which requires long hours of dedicated work throughout the summer, in the evenings, and on weekends.”
Since receiving the Dollys, both Catalano and Pittman have had promising starts to their careers.
On commencement day, Catalano received a call offering her a job as hair and makeup artist for Broadway’s The Play That Goes Wrong. She is also working on advanced certification in film and television makeup, including special effects.
Pittman missed commencement to perform in Legally Blonde in Singapore. After her return, she was choreographing a show for Clear Space Theatre in Delaware when she was called to fill in at the last minute in the major role of Lola in Damn Yankees at the Park Playhouse in Albany, New York, for fellow WCT alumna, Victoria Puza ’16, who had been injured. Pittman had played that role in the WCT production.
“Emma and Joanna are perfect embodiments of the values we teach, and the faculty believe each one will continue to represent the best of WCT and the Dolly Awards in their professional careers, which are already off to a great start,” says Ruff.
“We are excited to see where this generous gift takes us next.”