College of Visual and Performing Arts

Freshman Theatre Major Has Reason for Heightened School Spirit


By Jen Kulju (M'04)

Christie Duke

Christie Duke’s great grandfather, Samuel Page Duke, served as JMU’s second and longest-reigning president from 1919-1939. Legend has it that the basketball team (or other sports team) came to Mr. Duke requesting new equipment. “They told him if he bought them new equipment, they would name the mascot after him. He did, the team held to their word, and that’s how the ‘Dukes’ came about,” recounts Christie, a freshman theatre major at JMU.

Christie grew up in the small town of Weston, Vermont, where her dad (Stuart) worked as the managing director of Weston Playhouse Theatre Company for the first 16 years of her life. “Weston Playhouse was my home, my playground,” recalls Christie. “Even when I was bored, my dad would send me to the costume shop to go play.”

Christie got to do more than just play, however. She wrote, directed, and worked behind-the-scenes alongside her dad, also an experienced theatrical lighting designer. The two first worked together on Weston Playhouse’s production of Fiddler on the Roof when Christie was in middle school and just beginning to take acting seriously. The “daddy-daughter team” would go on to join forces on six more productions at Christie’s high school, Christie as an actor and her dad as the lighting designer.

Christie Duke with her dad Stuart

Even today, theatre continues to bring Christie and her dad together. Stuart served as the guest lighting designer for James Madison University School of Theatre and Dance’s The Tempest this past fall. “It made me really happy that he could come to JMU to do what he loves to do, but that I could also have him nearby to be part of my college life,” shares Christie, who lives with other arts students in Wayland Hall, which she calls an “amazing space with a ton of creative energy.”

“One night I couldn’t sleep and walked downstairs into the studio space in Wayland. I found a music major playing the piano and one of my friends, a theatre major, improvising jazz singing. I just sat there and listened to them at 2 o’clock in the morning.”

From Wayland Hall to the Theatre program to the university itself, Christie is enamored with JMU. “I feel really connected to the school, and I’d like to think it’s because of what my great grandfather put into it. It doesn’t register that everyone walks around campus with the name ‘Dukes’ on their shirts. I just feel like part of the community here—and I’d like to think that’s what my great grandfather would have wanted.” 

Published: Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Last Updated: Wednesday, August 9, 2017

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