After five years as the producing artistic director at the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre and the director of conservatory programs, Henry Fonte will retire from UM at the end of this spring semester to pursue independent projects in writing and directing.
“Although the official title is that I’m ‘retiring,’ I am not retiring,” Fonte said. “I am retiring from this job, but I want to move on to new projects. I’m a person who likes to invent rather than keep. New works are my passion, and I really want to jump back into that.”
Originally from Havana, Cuba, Fonte graduated from Miami High School in 1969 and went on to earn two degrees from University of Florida (UF) – a Bachelor of Arts in 1973 and a Master of Arts in teaching in 1976.
Fonte left Florida to begin his acting career in Washington, D.C.. He then launched his directing career in New York City as a founding member of The Pearl Theatre Company, where he developed, wrote and directed.
In 1998, he founded the New Works Development Program at The Hartt School at the University of Hartford in Connecticut and developed a lasting association with Goodspeed Musicals during his tenure. He is now coming to a close on his latest project: his five-year tenured career at the University of Miami.
“He did a lot of great things for our department, I think,” junior Rachel Eddy said. “He made a lot of big steps forward. The partnership with the Arsht is such a big deal. I hope that we’re able to keep that.”
During his time at the University, Fonte has brought the theater program outside of the campus bubble. His direction of a collaboration between the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and the university allowed UM students to perform in big name shows like “Metamorphoses” and “Peter and the Starcatcher” at a well-attended, off-campus theater.
“When I first got here, I was looking for a second space in which to produce,” Fonte said. “I wanted to keep the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre as a sort of classroom, and produce somewhere else. We’ve now done four collaborations with the Arsht Center. It’s been great working with them and having that kind of exposure for our students.”
In order to offer UM’s theater program a professional perspective, Fonte drew on his experiences of directing more than 60 performances, working on 16 new plays and 14 new musicals at The Hartt School and writing for companies across the country. In the past five years, he has brought esteemed artists like Tommy Tune, Nilo Cruz and Moisés Kaufman to campus.
“It’s not just as if we’d have a famous person come in and do a master class for two hours. We’ve had really famous people come and stay for six weeks,” Fonte said.
Tune came and developed a new all-student cast musical, “Fifty*Four*Forever,” with the department. During the process, students worked with Tune, as well as playwright Mark Saltzman and Broadway costume designer Dona Granata.
“In every case, these professionals have been really proud of our students,” Fonte said.
Though Fonte will no longer lead the university’s theater community, he hopes his time with the program will leave a legacy of professionalism and international collaboration.
“Our theater really runs like a professional theater now,” he said. “We brought in some really A-list actors; some of international acclaim. Our city is an international city, and I wanted that to reflect in our program. I just wanted us to be a vibrant part of the university, a vibrant part of the city and a vibrant part of the national scene – and we’ve gotten that.”