Stories

To thine own self be true: Fr. Tollini retires from Theatre and Dance Department

“O wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful wonderful!”

So says William Shakespeare in As You Like It—and recounts Bill Peck ’87 in his tribute to Fred Tollini, S.J., who retired from SCU’s  Department of Theatre and Dance after a career spanning more than 40 years.

It all began In the 1960s when Fr. Tollini convinced the Society of Jesus to allow him to pursue a Ph.D. in theatre history at Yale University, says Michael Zampelli, S.J., Rector of SCU’s Jesuit Community and Associate Professor of Theatre and Dance. “Thank you, Fred, for never letting go of what may have seemed to be ‘an impossible dream,’ for helping to pave the road that made the rest of our journeys easier.”

Arriving at Santa Clara in 1971, Fr. Tollini went on to specialize in drama, theatre history, and Shakespeare studies—directing more than 50 plays and musicals, acting in numerous productions, and even lending a directorial hand to a number of operas via the Music Department. He has published three books on theatre topics—and for 12 years served as chair of the theatre department.

“Father Fred taught me to recognize and always strive for the spiritual connectedness that this art form, and all art forms, provide the human race,” says Nick Manfredi ’14. “He taught me the importance of the honest portrayal of every human being you get to play for the greater good of honoring life.”

After a somewhat green Kristen (Hopf) Brown ’91 performed characters from Spoon River Anthology during a high school acting competition, she timidly shared her shaky college plans with Fr. Tollini, who was serving as one of the competition judges.

“Well, I happen to be looking for students for the theatre department at Santa Clara University. Would you consider it?” he asked.

“Never turn down an offer like that!” she says. “Best role I was ever cast in, and I’m forever grateful.”

As part of his retirement celebration tribute on October 24, countless former students thanked Fr. Tollini for being such an inspiration and beacon of light in the department, and for arranging visits and workshops from the Royal Shakespeare Company actors—including John Reich, Vinie Burrows, and longtime actor and friend, Patrick Stewart.

During Fr. Tollini’s retirement celebration, Stewart shared some choice congratulatory words via a video message: “You have directed the careers and lives of thousands of students—and they are very fortunate and all the better for it,” he affirmed. “You’ve always been immensely supportive of me, and for that I’m very grateful. But you’ve also been a friend, and for that I feel honored and… proud.”