"This good will happen and I am committed to it."
Jeff Flygare and a friend were having lunch when she announced to the bewildered English teacher that she secretly had signed him up to audition for Shakespeare's Richard III that weekend.
Flygare had never in his 30 years of life performed on stage in any way big or small. But his love of The Bard's writing ran deep. When he was a boy, Flygare discovered a dusty set of Shakespeare's complete works in the attic of his childhood home. He became more enamored with each turn of the page. Flygare later studied English literature in college and became a high school English teacher where he also directed the school plays.
"From a literary and intellectual standpoint, it's the greatest writing of the English language," he said. "And then you don't truly understand the power of that language until you actually say it and perform it. Your job as an actor is to make that Elizabethan language accessible to the modern American audience."
So, despite his nerves and without any prior acting experience, Flygare went for it—and it changed his life. He was cast as Sir William Catesby by the late Murray Ross, beloved UCCS educator, scholar and founder of THEATREWORKS. Flygare and Ross formed a decades-long friendship rooted in creativity and collaboration, first as actor and director and then sharing directing duty on more than 15 Shakespearean productions at THEATREWORKS and UCCS.
"The Shakespeare put on at THEATREWORKS is one of the best productions in Southern Colorado and I would even say sometimes in the whole state of Colorado. And I wanted to keep that going," he said.
Flygare, who now works as an educational consultant, began to think about the future of his estate a few years ago. He wanted to do something important and meaningful for the community, and THEATREWORKS immediately came to mind. In 2016, he casually mentioned the idea to Ross while they were directing Antony and Cleopatra.
The director was very touched.
"It's one of those moments you could see I really got to him," Flygare said. "Murray was my friend, colleague and mentor, and he made a tremendous impact on my life. I don't think I would have been the teacher or the educational consultant I am without theater, and he helped me grow in those roles."
With a planned gift from Flygare's retirement account, an endowed fund will be established to support the salaries of non-equity members of THEATREWORKS Shakespeare productions at UCCS in perpetuity.
He called his experience making a planned gift to UCCS "exceptional."
"I was not pressured in any way whatsoever, and everyone has been so thankful," he said. "I'm honestly amazed to the extent my gift was honored. You don't go in expecting that."
This summer, Flygare steps into the role as lead director on Macbeth at THEATREWORKS. With the death of Ross in 2017, it's the first time Flygare will direct a production solo at UCCS. Flygare knows his friend would be proud of what the endowment will do for THEATREWORKS and his fellow Bardolators.
"You always worry when you make a financial commitment if it's the right thing," Flygare said. "But when I signed the paperwork, it felt right. Then I had a moment with Murray, and it was probably one of the last times I saw him, and I told him 'This decision feels better and better each day.' And I know in my final moment that this good will happen and that I am committed to it."