Samuel Northrup, Editor in Chief
Utica College’s arts programs have had to operate without one of their most influential members for the first time in nearly two decades.
Most known for her work with UC’s theatre programs, Marijean Levering, a professor of theatre and the chair of the performing and fine arts department, passed away in July following a battle with breast cancer. In the wake of her passing, the department, colleagues and students Levering held dear have had to adapt to their first semester without their “matriarch.”
“The whole department has a very family-like atmosphere,” Laura Salvaggio, assistant professor of theatre and interim chair of the performing and fine arts department at UC, said. “We all bonded together, and we’ve all worked together to make all the things happen that we know she would’ve wanted to see happen.”
Salvaggio, who had worked with Levering since arriving at UC in 2010, not only lost a colleague in Levering but a friend–something that made stepping into Levering’s position difficult. With her first semester as interim chair nearly complete, Salvaggio said she still finds comfort in the little aspects of Levering’s presence that still remain in the arts department and the office they shared.
“There are little touches of her’s all over,” Salvaggio said. “I had a pretty hard day, and I found a little Post-It note in her handwriting, and all it said was ‘Don’t meddle in the affairs of dragons for you are crunchy and good with ketchup.’ I laughed, and it just kind of felt like she was there for me.”
This semester, Salvaggio said her job has been to keep her department “on the track we were already on” while also trying to slightly grow it. In addition to managing her department while dealing with personal grief, she also had to unite and console students with whom Levering fostered close relationships with.
“It was a challenge integrating the freshman who didn’t know her and who were coming into this close-knit group that was grieving excited about theatre,” she explained. “But we made it work, and we all had fun doing theatre together.”
This fall, UC’s theatrical world has been active after students put on a musical performance of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” as part of the theatre minor, while the theatre club, a student-lead group, performed William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” in November.
“We’re at a point in time where things have come together in just the right way to offer the perfect opportunity for this theatre department to grow,” Salvaggio said. “We’ve got students doing all sorts of wonderful things outside the theatre program that are still theatre related. It’s exciting to see students doing and loving theatre not just at school with the academic portion, but just as a lifestyle.”
Sharon Wise, dean for the school of arts and sciences, has been pleased with how Salvaggio has stepped into Levering’s position, especially for it being her first time in the role.
In Levering’s absence, Wise, who remembers Levering as a “great colleague in meetings, very thoughtful,” has not lost the lost impact Levering’s presence had on the fine and performing arts department.
“We can find new people to teach the courses, but you can’t replace the person and her way of looking at the theatre and how she acts with students,” Wise said. “That’s lost.”
Senior Azure Garrett, who worked closely with Levering both as a theatre student and an academic advisee, credits her professor as the reason she remained in her respective minor. To Garrett, Levering was more than just a teacher.
“I knew I could go to her if I needed something,” Garrett said. “If I got sick [before a play] she would cure me within two days. I’d always seem to get sick [before plays], like a bad cold, and it wasn’t going away. She would go out and buy me orange juice and buy me medicine. She just went out of her way, and little things like that built up our relationship.”
Garrett explained that while this semester’s transition has not been “odd” because of the close relationship Levering had with Salvaggio, things won’t be the same without the professor she affectionately calls “M.J.”
“The theatre’s still going and it’s definitely a little different because she was the person who lead us and the person we looked to for help and advice, but I think at the same time it’s helping us to take on her roles and gain more responsibility,” Garrett said.
As the second semester approaches, there are several theatre and arts related events planned for the spring which include a comedy performance of David Ives’s “All in the Timing,” a potential second show for the theatre club and an arts festival on April 28 in honor of Levering and her dedication to art and theatre.