The spotlight shines a little brighter than usual in remembrance of one of Texas State’s most illuminating stars, Shirley Knight.
Knight, an award-winning actress and a frequent guest lecturer for Texas State’s musical theater department, passed away April 22 in San Marcos.
Knight’s career spanned close to six decades in the film industry. Some of her film credits include “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood” and “As Good As It Gets”. Knight also received Oscar nominations for her performances in “The Dark at the Top of the Stairs” and “Sweet Bird of Youth”.
Later in her career, she became a guest lecturer for the university, radiating her kindness as a person and her passion as an actress to future actors and actresses.
Knight’s daughter, Kaitlin Hopkins, is the head of Texas State’s musical theater program. Hopkins said her mother’s activism and kind heart inspired her to give back to the theater industry and establish a program that allows young artists to discover their true talents and flourish in their craft.
At first, Hopkins said her mother was surprised at her decision to establish a college program in Texas, however, the surprise quickly turned into excitement as Knight invited her starlet friends to a fundraiser in hopes of gaining scholarship money for the newly found program.
“My mom taught me that having integrity in your life allows you to have integrity in your work,” Hopkins said. “And the most important thing about being an actor is being authentic and honoring the text and the character that you’ve been entrusted with. She taught me that living in the world, as an artist means of being of service, that it is not actually about you. That it is about serving humanity, healing humanity (and) serving the community.”
Hopkins said her mother’s passion and love in life was to act. Filled with complete joy, Knight took every opportunity to watch the auditions of students and loved witnessing musical theater transform the lives of students both on and off stage.
Hopkins said her mother believed all children should have the right to higher education. She said her mother provided scholarships and sponsored many students who struggled with the financial aspect of college.
“I think she impacted (the students’) experiences here because she made it real and accessible that you could have a career in show business,” Hopkins said. “She believed that we all have greatness inside of us and it is just a matter of accessing it and honing in and giving it a delivery system.”
In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations toward the Shirley Knight Memorial Fund which will create scholarships to students enrolled in the university’s musical theater program. Hopkins along with musical theater alumni will put on a virtual cabaret May 8 through Facebook Live in hopes of gaining donations for the Shirley Knight Memorial Fund and The Actors Fund, another organization supporting actors.
Along with the frequent trips to Texas State, Knight served as both a mentor and friend to many students, offering life advice and sharing her experiences in show business.
Texas State alumnus Johnny Brantley III graduated from the university’s musical theater program in 2016. Brantley recently performed in the Broadway production “Beetlejuice” and went on a national tour with “The Book of Morman”.
Knight watched Brantley perform in the production of “The Book of Mormon”. He said it was a surreal moment for him to share a big accomplishment with a mentor who supported him since his early days as a musical theater student.
“I met Shirley when I was becoming an artist,” Brantley said. “She’s a part of my artistic blueprint, (one of the) people that meant a lot to me, not only that I love but who encouraged me and made me feel good about my work.”
Knight radiated talent and joy wherever she went, spreading it along to her colleagues at Texas State.
Cassie Abate, head of Texas State’s musical theater dance area, said one of her favorite memories of Knight was the care and warmth she showed for each student. She said Knight’s impact on the theater department went far beyond acting and performing; it transcended to a personal level.
“She not only lent her support and encouragement but also her knowledge of the craft and business,” Abate said. “I think she set an example of how to be a generous artist in the world.”
For more information on how to support the Shirley Knight Memorial Fund or The Actors Fund visit the crowdfunding website https://www.donate.txstate.edu/ or follow Texas State’s musical theater social media sites @txstmt.