From the bright lights shining down on the black stage floor to the hurried excitement behind a closed curtain to the thrill of the applause from a packed audience—theatre is sometimes in the blood, a gift that unites generations with the magic of live performance. This gift has been passed down for four generations for Zoe Lunga, a sophomore stage design and production student, and ultimately culminated in a gift from her mother, Eileen Lunga, that will support the Stage Design and Production Program for decades.
Eileen grew up backstage, the more reserved daughter born to two parents, Mary and Milt Lunga, who were bitten by the theater bug.
“Mom acted in and directed a lot of community theater shows, and often used to direct my dad,” Eileen says. Her father, a salesman during the day, had difficulty learning his parts, so Eileen used to run lines with him, while her four siblings preferred to perform alongside their parents.
“Helping them learn lines was a big part of my childhood,” she says.
As an adult, Eileen attended law school in Baltimore, where she stayed and began to build her life. Her parents had some unexpected medical expenses, and Eileen offered to pay them to prevent her parents from being burdened. They accepted her offer as a loan, not a gift, and made plans for Eileen to be repaid out of their estate after their passing.
“I knew I wouldn’t want the money back. I wanted to use it to do something to honor them,” Eileen says. “I lived in Baltimore and didn’t have a child at that point, but I thought that Baltimore School for the Arts would be a great place to give a gift in memory of Mom and Dad to honor their love of theater.”
The years went by, and her parents passed away. Sorrow was followed by joy when Eileen welcomed her daughter Zoe into the family. Zoe herself developed the Lunga family love for the stage and enrolled in BSA as a stage design and production student.
“I’ve always loved the arts, and every other school seemed dull compared to the amazing opportunities I could get here,” Zoe says.
Years after her parents’ passing, the estate was disbursed and Eileen decided to commemorate her mother and father by creating The Mary and Milt Lunga Memorial Endowed Fund in Stage Production.
“These kids often don’t get recognition because they are backstage, but nothing gets done without them,” Eileen said. “The work in the Stage Design and Production Program is challenging but also very practical.”
“With the SDP Program, there are so many things that come into play in regular life,” Zoe says. “I am now the official handyman around my house.”
Eileen’s endowment gift will support continuing education for teachers, new equipment, trips for the students, and anything else deemed critical by the director of the program.
“We are incredibly grateful for Ms. Lunga’s generosity,” says Paul Christensen, director of the program. “Endowment gifts enable us to expand our programming, create unique opportunities for the students, and also help sustain us when there are public funding issues.”
“I wanted the gift to last and continue to have an impact,” Eileen says. “ Since my parents died before Zoe was born, they never got to meet their last grandchild, but this is a way they can be a part of her life.”
It turns out the Lunga family love for theater runs even deeper than Eileen first realized. When researching her family history, Eileen discovered that her grandmother, who immigrated from Czechoslovakia in her early 20s, was also an actor. She worked in a shoe factory in Binghamton, NY, but also performed in her church’s theater shows.
For the Lungas, theatre is in the blood. The Mary and Milt Lunga Memorial Endowed Fund will help future young artists in Baltimore to pursue the same passions enjoyed by four generations of the Lunga Family.