The Bob and Dolores Hope Charitable Foundation has established two acting fellowships and created The Bob Hope Endowed Fellowship Fund at the School of the Arts (SOA) to benefit second-year graduate students studying acting.
Beginning this fall, acting students Liz Cunningham and Dustin Helmer are the first recipients of the fellowships. The Bob Hope Fellowships will be awarded annually to two second-year graduate students in SOA's theatre division who demonstrate exceptional talent and dedication to their craft.
"The Bob and Dolores Hope Foundation grant represents an innovative approach to philanthropy," says SOA Dean Bruce Ferguson. "It is a great gift from a generous source whose name brings a smile to every face. Bob and Dolores Hope both are legendary American entertainers and we are grateful to enter into this close association with them."
Bob Hope received an honorary degree from Columbia in 1984. His granddaughter, Miranda Hope, SOA'00, is an alumna of the theatre arts, acting program, and was instrumental in recommending Columbia for the grant. A director and board member of the Bob and Dolores Hope Charitable Foundation, Miranda Hope will oversee the grant and make periodic visits to the School.
"My grandfather has always impressed upon me the idea that acting is not a whim or a fluke; it is a craft," says Miranda Hope. "At Columbia, I spent three years inspired by my teachers: passionate artists dedicated to the teaching of that craft. My grandfather is also a great innovator and the faculty at Columbia contains some of the leading artistic innovators of this time. I am so grateful for the years I had there. This fellowship is a way for me to show my gratitude to the school and to encourage young performers who might otherwise not have the chance, as I did, to pursue their dreams."
Even in the first year, The Bob Hope Fellowships are doing just that.
"Without the fellowship I would be unable to attend Columbia's graduate acting program, which I believe to be the best actor training program in the country," says Helmer. "I feel honored to be given this award. It allows me to pursue my dreams."
Helmer has worked with Theaterworks of Santa Fe on "Racine's Phedra"; the Kaliyuga Arts of San Francisco on "The Collected Works of Billy the Kid," and The Roy Hart Theatre of France on "The Bacchae."
In addition to her studies at SOA, the second Bob Hope Fellow, Cunningham, is co-founder and administrative director of the Progress Theatre Company, which produced "Peaches," a staged essay of a dream-like world of a six-year old with music that examines racial stereotypes of Black women and aims to dissect these notions. "Peaches" was co-commissioned by the National Performance Network and was performed as part of the National Black Theatre Festival. It will be performed at the Kennedy Center on December 15. In April Cunningham will also act in the play "Confessions," currently in development, at PS 122.
Growing up in a single parent household on Long Island, Cunningham did not have cable television, yet she recalls watching all of Bob Hope's movies and specials.
"I am inspired by the things he has done with his life, and his contribution to the arts" says Cunningham. "Someday I'd love to be able to give back as much as has been given to me."