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NMSU Center for the Arts theatre to be named for the Medoffs

When New Mexico State University's Center for the Arts opens in fall 2012, its theatre will have a familiar name to many in the Mesilla Valley. The NMSU Board of Regents voted Monday to name the theatre in honor of Mark and Stephanie Medoff.

A studio photo of Mark and Stephanie Medoff.
Mark and Stephanie Medoff (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

"The Medoffs have made a lasting imprint on the arts in our region and it is fitting that we honor their dedication and talents," said NMSU President Barbara Couture. "NMSU's Department of Theatre Arts and the Creative Media Institute would not be what they are without Mark's perseverance and talent. He has made a difference to so many students whose lives he has touched."

The multi-phased Center for the Arts project is designed to consolidate NMSU's arts programs into one centralized location. Phase I, which is under construction now, is a three-story academic facility, about 59,000 square feet in size, at the southeast corner of University Avenue and Espina Street.

The building will house the 450-seat theatre performance space to be named for the Medoffs, a 74-foot-high fly tower and full theater and dance support areas. The structure also will contain public space, shared classrooms and a home for the theater department. Phase I is scheduled for completion in November 2012.

Mark Medoff has played an important role in the growth of the theatre arts program at NMSU since he arrived in 1966 to be an instructor in the Department of English. He co-founded the American Southwest Theatre Company with the late Bruce Streett in 1981 to facilitate bringing guest artists to campus to provide students and faculty with professional enrichment experiences.

"I was 26 when I arrived here," Medoff said. "I knew no one. I was going to stay a year. Forty-four years, three daughters and sons-in law, and six grandchildren later, it's fair to say the vast majority of my friends and students passed through this city and university and helped to define me as a teacher and an artist. To be recognized as part of the NMSU legacy honors not only the Medoff family, but everyone who has touched our lives."

Mark and his wife, Stephanie, also have generously donated nearly half a million dollars to NMSU to establish endowments for student scholarships and support other programs across campus, most recently a generous gift of land to support the construction of the Center for the Arts.

Beyond his monetary generosity, it has been Medoff's active mentorship of students while they were enrolled at NMSU and continuing as they went forward to pursue professional careers that has made a lasting impact on the many students who studied here during his more than 20-year tenure, as well as his passion for the theatre arts department as a whole and the newly formed Creative Media Institute, for which he serves as artistic director, that would be recognized with this naming honor, said Dennis Prescott, president of the NMSU Foundation, who presented the recommendation to the Regents.

"Mark is above all a man of honor and commitment. He has been pressured many times over the past 40 years to leave here for the more visible show business venues of New York and Los Angeles or for the greener pastures of larger, richer universities. But he made a commitment in his heart to me, to our children, and to Las Cruces and New Mexico State University, and what is in his heart always wins out in the end," said Stephanie Medoff.

College of Arts and Sciences Dean Christa Slaton nominated the Medoffs for the honor, saying, "As the Department of Theatre Arts prepares to relocate in the new Center for the Arts, it would be very appropriate for their performance space to carry the name of one of the visionaries who put the department on the path to excellence."

Medoff was instrumental in the current NMSU theatre being re-named for one of his mentors, Hershel Zohn.

"Hershel encouraged me to write for the theater and then produced my first full-length play in 1968. I got to introduce Hershel to a full house on the night his name went officially on that building. Were he here, Hershel would know the part he played in the current moment in NMSU history," Medoff said. "We look forward to entering the Mark and Stephanie Medoff Theatre in the not too distant future. And, of course, I look forward to the opportunity to try the place out."

Medoff has written more than 28 plays and 12 screenplays. An early success was "When You Comin' Back, Red Rider?" and in 1980 he received a Tony Award for his Broadway hit "Children of a Lesser God." Medoff was named a Guggenheim Fellow (1974) and a Fellow of the College of Fellows of the American Theatre (1999). He is the recipient of numerous awards including the Drama Desk Award (1974 and 1980), the John Gassner Playwriting Award (1974), the Obie Award for Distinguished Playwriting (1974), and the Kennedy Center Medallion for Excellence in Artistic Education and Artistic Achievement (2006). He also has directed six movies and more than 24 plays and musicals, many of which were works by some of his protégés.

Medoff said two of his proudest accomplishments are his 1974 Westhafer Award for Excellence in Creative Activity, NMSU's highest faculty honor, and his 1980 Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts, the State of New Mexico Lifetime Achievement. During his acceptance speech he said, "Though not born in New Mexico, I am a New Mexican."