Lee H. Salisbury
Lee Salisbury came to Alaska at the suggestion of his sister-in-law, Druska Schaible, and began teaching at UA in 1955. Before coming to Alaska, he did radio and stage work for seven years in New York and worked in summer stock and repertory theater in New England. For many years, Salisbury was the sole faculty member of the university’s speech and drama program. He is also credited with playing a pivotal role in securing support for building the theatre on campus.
When he started teaching in the late 1950s, dramatic performances were staged in the gym, which is now Signers’ Hall. The sets and lights had to be taken down every Friday night so ROTC students could fall into line every Saturday morning, and productions had to be staged around the basketball games and practices. The situation improved with the opening of Schaible Auditorium in 1957, but due to tight funding, Schaible was built without a real stage. In place of a center stage, the auditorium had a large blackboard, which required the theatre department to create U-shaped sets that wrapped around the blackboard. Ben Zeller, now a professional designer in Hollywood, once built a revolving set for a production at Schaible Auditorium.
Salisbury directed nearly 100 plays in more than 30 years at UAF, the longest continuous tradition of theater production in Alaska. He also served as commissioner of the Alaska Educational Broadcast Commission, the predecessor of the Alaska Public Radio Network, from 1968 -1979. His work led to the establishment of KUAC-FM. In addition, he created a pilot program designed to ease the transition of Alaska Native students from rural communities to Fairbanks.
When Salisbury retired from teaching at UA in 1988, he became a Professor of Speech Emeritus, and in 1992, students petitioned the board of regents to rename the theatre in his honor. Although the regents approved the name change, it is university policy that no facility be named for a living person until they have been retired for five years. On June 4, 1993, the theatre was rededicated. Salisbury currently travels, teaches and does radio and television narratives and voice-overs. He also takes an occasional stage role.