Retirees Association

Tom Hanks on the Festival Playhouse Stage

Tom Hanks has a long and storied connection with Wright State University.

In 1978, 20 year old Hanks was performing with the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival [GLSF] in Cleveland. The Department of Theatre, under the leadership of Dr. Abe Bassett, brought the GLSF for a one-week residency in the Festival Playhouse.

During his years studying theater, Hanks met Vincent Dowling, head of the Great Lakes Theater Festival in Cleveland, Ohio.[4] At Dowling's suggestion, Hanks became an intern at the Festival. His internship stretched into a three-year experience that covered most aspects of theater production, including lighting, set design, and stage management, all of which caused Hanks to drop out of college. During the same time, Hanks won the Cleveland Critics Circle Award for Best Actor for his 1978 performance as Proteus in Shakespeare's The Two Gentlemen of Verona, one of the few times he played a villain.[14] Hanks performed in The Two Gentlemen of Verona..

Tom headed for New York. Once there, he landed the lead in The Mandrake by Machiavelli, a show being produced by Dr. Stuart McDowell, current chair of WSU’s department of Theatre, Dance, and Motion Pictures. Tom moved to Hollywood, where he soon became a sought-after comic actor and began his amazing journey to becoming among the most successful actors in American history, as well as an important director and producer of numerous films and television series.

Wright State established its next Hanks connection in the late 1980’s, when WSU Motion Pictures alumnus Eric Bork moved to Hollywood soon after graduation and became a script reader for Hanks at his new Playtone Studio. This led to Eric’s job as screenwriter and supervising producer for Earth to the Moon and Band of Brothers, winning Emmys for both Hanks and Bork. When Bork became one of the first winners of the Distinguished Alumni Award for WSU’s Theatre, Dance, and Motion Pictures department, Hanks sent an improvised video of congratulations from the rooftop of his Santa Monica office, filled with typical Hanks humor.

Hanks has also been involved in promoting financial support of the arts at Wright State. In 2005, he and his wife, Rita Wilson, established the Tom Hanks Scholarship Fund and the Tom Hanks Visiting Artists Fund. In 2006, Hanks helped WSU raise scholarship funds by offering an auction item at ARTSGALA where the highest bidder could enjoy―Tea with Hanks‖ on the shooting set for The DaVinci Code in Rome. That trip netted over $30,000 for scholarships. Angelia, met Hanks in his production studio, where Hanks agreed – with great gusto to become more involved with Wright State, beginning with heading up a major promotional drive for our arts programs. In August 2011, WSU Motion Pictures alumni Evan Nesbit and Nicole Simmons, together with a local crew, filmed Hanks in his Santa Monica studio. Hanks warmly congratulated the arts at Wright State for being named an Ohio Center of Excellence in the Arts. His filmed message was presented at a press conference at Wright State, at which Ohio Chancellor of Higher Education, James Petro, officially named WSU’s CELIA (Collaborative Education Leadership and Innovation in the Arts) an Ohio Center of Excellence in the Arts. And now, Hanks’ praise for WSU arts can be heard on the radio, and be seen on both television and in the movies.