Clemson native and alumnus Robert Allen ’08 has achieved something that many people only dream of — he’s made it to Broadway. You won’t see him under the spotlight, though. Allen is a sound engineer, working on various Broadway and off-Broadway productions, sometimes traveling with touring companies, to make the performers on stage sound amazing for their audiences.

Allen graduated with a degree in performing arts and a concentration in audio technology, but he had been attending programs at Clemson’s Brooks Center for the Performing Arts for years before enrolling as a student at Clemson.

Every year, thousands of children file into the seats at the Brooks Center to enjoy performances of classical music, children’s plays, dance and more, made possible by the Bill and Donna Eskridge Tri-ART Series. Allen was one of those children.

“I can remember watching the Clemson Players performing Shakespeare. Our class would take field trips to watch performances of something we were studying in class,” he said. “Most of us struggled through reading Shakespeare’s words in the classroom, and the works would remain beyond our understanding. However, once I got to witness a performance with movement and characters, the meaning of Shakespeare’s words would emerge, literally coming to life. It was a real ‘Eureka!’ moment for me.”

Attending those Tri-ART programs did more than help Allen gain a better grasp of Shakespeare.

“I think Tri-ART’s primary influence would have to be the creation of a ‘comfort zone’ with the performing arts,” said Allen. “If it weren’t for my early exposure to theater, I may have shied away from studying at the Brooks Center and pursuing a career in the arts.”

That’s the kind of impact Bill and Donna Eskridge wanted to have when they decided to endow the Tri-ART program. The couple was introduced to the Brooks Center shortly after retiring to Lake Keowee in 1993. After learning about the Tri-ART program and its funding needs, they decided to support it by creating an endowment. They have also decided to include the program in their estate plans, to ensure that it will continue to inspire children for generations.

“It’s probably the best investment we’ve ever made,” Bill said. “I have a framed quote at home that says, ‘A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in or the kind of car I drove … but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.’ That’s the significance of the Tri-ART program and why we wanted to support it.”

Donna said she enjoys the variety of programs the children are offered through the series, everything from internationally known classical musicians, to Flamenco dancing, to children’s plays designed to teach life lessons.

“The cultural diversity of what they are seeing is just wonderful,” she said. “I never had access to these kinds of performances when I was a child.”

The quality and diversity of programs also left an impression on Allen.

“Tri-ART exposes children to a facet of society that they may otherwise have no chance to experience. Furthermore, the quality of programming at Tri-ART is equally important to note,” said Allen. “Witnessing good performances reinforces the imaginations of the young audience members and helps them build an appreciation of theater, causing kids to grow up into more well-rounded members of society.”

Each year, the Brooks Center hosts 18 Tri-ART programs, with an annual attendance of about 13,000 children. Children are able to attend the programs for $2, and some programs are free.

“There is nowhere else in this country where children can see events of this quality for just $2,” said Lillian “Mickey” Harder, director of the Brooks Center. “We are enriching the lives of thousands of children, and Bill and Donna Eskridge have made that happen. If a child starts coming to Tri-ART programs at age 3 and comes to several shows a year throughout childhood, think about how well rounded that person will be in the arts. What Bill and Donna have made possible for the lives of these children is extraordinary.”

How endowments work

An endowment is meant to provide a perpetual source of income for scholarships, faculty and University programs for generations of Clemson students. When an endowment is established, the principal gift (or corpus), is invested long-term and a portion of the annual earnings are paid out to support the designated purpose for which the endowment was established. The goal is to ensure that the principal maintains its purchasing power over time to support future generations.