Hilberry Theatre (Wayne State University)

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Hilberry Theatre
Hilberry Theatre WSU - Detroit Michigan.jpg
Location 4743 Cass Avenue
Detroit, Michigan
Coordinates 42°21′15″N 83°3′57.4″W / 42.35417°N 83.065944°W / 42.35417; -83.065944Coordinates: 42°21′15″N 83°3′57.4″W / 42.35417°N 83.065944°W / 42.35417; -83.065944
Built 1917
Architect Field, Hinchman & Smith
Architectural style Neoclassical
Part of Wayne State University Buildings

The Hilberry Theatre is located at 4743 Cass Avenue in Midtown Detroit, Michigan where it is employed by 40-50 graduate students at the Wayne State University main campus, who are pursuing degrees in acting, directing, or design management. Created in 1963, the Hilberry Theatre is the oldest graduate repertory company in the United States. The Hilberry Theatre puts on roughly six different plays, both modern and classic, from October until May each year.[1]


In February 1917, the First Church of Christ Scientist was built on the corner of Cass Avenue and Hancock Street, in the heat of Midtown Detroit. The Christian Scientists of Detroit was a growing community and in need of a location to hold their services. The building was able to hold up to 1,512 members and included a 60-foot stage and 22 rooms. Later on in 1961, it was bought and remodeled by Wayne State University. Wayne State purchased the Hilberry Theatre for $250,000 which included a $25,000 down payment and was officially owned by the university on June 15, 1961.[2]

After many renovations, the church was renamed the Hilberry Theatre, after Wayne States fourth president, Clarence B. Hilberry, and reopened in January 1964. There is now a bronze bust (sculpture) of Clarence Hilberry in the main lobby of the theatre in honor of all his great accomplishments. The first play that was performed at the Hilberry Theatre was called Shakespeare 400, in honor of William Shakespeare's 400th anniversary of birth.[3] Today, the Hilberry Theatre is one of three different historical buildings that are now used for classes by Wayne State students. The Hilberry is also considered to be one of the best training grounds for new and upcoming actors/actresses and directors in the area.


The Hilberry Theatre was originally constructed in 1916-17 by the architectural firm Field, Hinchman & Smith as the First Church of Christ Scientist.[2]

Designed in a Neoclassical architecture and Ionic style, the Hilberry is a low rise building with an estimated height of 41.55 feet and consists of two floors as well as a basement.[4] The Hilberry has an Ionic style colonnade on the exterior of the building facing Hancock Street and its masonry is made to resemble that of marble. The exterior door frames are surrounded in classical moldings and the facade facing Cass Avenue is designed in similar manner and serves as the main entrance to the theater.[5]

On June 16, 1961, Wayne State University bought the church and remodeled its 60-foot stage and 1,512 seated auditorium into a 532 seated theater.[5] The open stage theatre was designed using Roman and Elizabethan approach. A traditional stage with backdrop and doors, a center performance stage, and elevated area surrounding the seating area. The theatre opened in 1964 to house a graduate repertory company.[6]

Hilberry Theatre uses[edit]

General public[edit]

  • Viewing of graduate students performances on classical pieces. ($10–32)[7]
  • Opportunities to do volunteer work as an usher.
  • Group hostings’ (church group, student organization, tour groups, etc.) for events and discounts on ticket prices, a private room, and a preview performance for group leaders.
  • Can purchase play packages that offer benefits such as choice seating, savings on tickets, ticket upgrades, and dining discounts. [8]

Theatre students[edit]

Graduate theatre students pursuing a degree in acting, management, and design become part of a three-year program in which they get training from a professional staff that in turn give them the tools to receive their graduate degrees. Each year the graduate students are involved in more than one hundred performances in front of a wide range of audience members. Graduate students of the Hilberry company receive assistantships such as tuition waivers, medical insurance and a stipend.[9]

Graduate programs[edit]

Wayne State CFPCA Logo

The Hilberry Theatre graduate training program is a three-year program offering specializations in the following areas: Acting, Scenic Design, Costume Design, Lighting Design, Stage Management and Theatre Management.


The Hilberry acting program stresses the performance aspect of the acting process, holding that performing in front of a live audience is the supreme way of learning the art of acting. Its foundations are laid on a series of European and American classics, combined with some contemporary plays.

Costume Design[edit]

The Hilbery Costume Design program presents the opportunity to practice costume design in a manner which stresses the practical nature of theatrical design. Through accelerated hands on classroom, studio and design production experience, costume design majors are able to grasp the knowledge needed to design for multiple productions held at the Hilberry Theatre, as well as the Bonstelle Theatre.

Lighting Design[edit]

The Hilberry lighting design program is aimed towards theatre production and individualistic projects. This gives students a greater freedom to choose more individualized coursework which pushes them to develop into distinctive artists.

Scenic Design[edit]

The Hilberry Scenic Design program is centered on practical training and design experience to help students develop production related skills. Through collaboration, conceptualization, originality and self-discovery, students are able to work in wide ranges of styles, allowing them to enter in a broad world of professional entertainment. This program is a pre-professional terminal degree.

Stage Management[edit]

The Hilberry Stage Management program requires dedication and passion for the process of theatre production. It also demands creative mindsets that are able to conduct successful productions. This program focuses on preparing students for advanced positions in education and theatre. Students will commit to at least six professional productions at the Hilberry and will mentor undergraduate students at the Bonstelle Theatre.

Theatre Management[edit]

The Hilberry Theatre Management program is primarily focused on promoting arts leadership, similar to what is studied in the arts administration programs. Students learn leadership training skills, through hands on experience, to eventually acquire the ability to run a professional theatre. [10]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]