THE NINETEEN TWENITIES
[NOTE: Gopher yearbooks continue their practice of reporting events from SFW of the year prior to the yearbook date which makes accuracy of events somewhat challenging…]
[excerpts from a letter written by Verna Steel Towne August 5, 1988]
No one in the 1920's at the University of Minnesota could have foreseen that the fledgling Speech Department would one day have the Rarig Center for the Performing Arts and Media Resource. The establishment of a Speech Department in 1921 was considered a bold step. A few other colleges, among them Yale University and the University of Wisconsin, had already done so. The English Department at the University of Minnesota under whose authority speech classes had been taught, felt that the speech field was too narrow or did not have sufficient academic content to justify a separate department. There were some faculty members who must have disagreed, however, for Elmer E. Stoll, a noted Shakespearian scholar who left funds from his estate to establish the theater named for him at the Rarig Center, Oscar Firkins, a beloved Literature professor who never missed a dress rehearsal of a campus production and probably never attended a regular performance, and "Dickey" Burton who taught Drama as Literature, all were interested in the Theater productions on the campus.
In 1923-24, when I was a senior, there was only one class in Play Production, taught by Ariel McNaughton Dingwall. Other speech classes were held in Folwell Hall, but Play production was conducted in the basement of the new Music Building [Scott Hall]. The large room with a raised platform at one end was used for planning and sometimes building scenery, costume and lighting design, rehearsals, and class discussions. We had access to the stage in the concert hall for dress rehearsals and actual performances or whenever it was not in use by the Music Department. After all, it was the Music Building, not a drama Center. Although Mrs. Dingwall supervised the productions, the main responsibility was assumed by the drama clubs--Masquers, Garrick — there may have been others. These clubs had closed membership, eligibility was determined by tryouts. In a university of 10,000 students this limited the number of participants considerably. Elected to Masquers in my senior year, I enjoyed playing Lona in Ibsen's Pillars of Society, and in other productions. It was enough to fire my enthusiasm for drama for years to come.
In the 1928-29 season, we produced four plays sponsored by The Masquers, one by the Garrick club and a group of one acts by the Theater Workshop sponsored by Edward Staadt: The Queen's Husband by Robert Sherwood, The Doctor in Spite of Himself by Moliere, and The Field God by Paul Green. It was the Paul Green Theater in Chapel Hill, NC, where I have retired, that sparked my recollections about Dramatics at the University of Minnesota sixty years ago. Our most difficult and satisfying production of the 1928-29 season was The Field God by Paul Green. We produced it less than two years after its initial production in off-Broadway theaters. Green was professor of Philosophy then and used his writing talents to address Southern social issues--lynchings, chain gangs and prejudice. The Field God concerned itself with religious bigotry and ignorance among poor whites. The play was not produced at the University of North Carolina. Green became chairman of the Department of Dramatic Arts there in 1931. Even at the University of Minnesota The Field God was considered a controversial play. I believe, however, that the reviews in both Minneapolis papers and The Minnesota Daily were favorable.
Frank M. Rarig was the first chairman of the Speech Department from 1921 to 1948. His influence on the Department and on students was remarkable. He was my undergraduate speech teacher in 1923-24. In his Interpretive Reading classes he helped students dig out the meaning and feeling of great literature. He could evoke fear, anger, respect or affection with his remarkable voice. It could be as tender as a lover's, as harsh as an army sergeant's, as lilting as a poet's or as thunderous as a despot's.
Ariel McNaughton directed Androcles and the Lion in December of 1920 for the Players and took over as their advisor. The Garrick Club continued to produce an evening of one-acts each year – in December they performed In the Zone and Mrs. Jarley’s Wax Works, and were joined by Paint and Parches which presented The Rescue in the Little Theatre as a benefit for a fund for a Permanent Cooperative Cottage for Girls. Paint and Patches had been organized as a dramatic club by eleven girls to advance women’s dramatics at Minnesota. The group presented one-act plays in Shevlin for the enjoyment of visitors during the social hour. The Masquers produced Hobson’s Choice January in the Little Theatre. And the Chinese Students’ Club presented Double Teeth as a benefit for famine relief in China in spring.
A Campus Dramatic Competition was now being held each spring. The plays entered in 1921 were A Successful Calamity (Masquers), David Garrick (Players), Captain Brassbound’s Conversion (Garrick), and the trio of Lonesome Like, Moonshine, and A Bright Morning (Agricultural Dramatic). The 1923 Gopher yearbook declares the winner as Garrick’s production of Brassbound’s Conversion.
During the fall and winter of 1921-1922 Paint and Patches give performances of Lima Beans, Fourteen and Overtones. In spring, the group entered the one-act play contest, producing Litmus by Ora McLaughlin. Shortly thereafter the group was recognized by the University as a major organization and given the right to produce plays on campus.
The 1923 Gopher Yearbook which captures 1921 Spring through 1922 Winter information introduces the name Punchinello Players for the first time.
The Masquers tradition of producing a play each spring on the campus knoll continues with A Midsummer Night’s Dream directed by Miss McNaughton before 5,000 spectators.
The Arabs arrive as a producing group of engineers in spring of 1922. The Caliph of Colynos “was the most spectacular thing of its kind ever presented to a University audience. With ‘bewitching harem choruses and charming ingénues, the Arabs have proven that a ‘man is not necessarily a man for a’ that.’” The Arabs was an all-men dramatic club composed solely of engineers who produced a musical comedy yearly -- written, composed, produced, designed, executed, and acted by themselves. The club listed some 80 members in 1924 yearbook. The productions usually featured a cast of “thousands” – in the case of The Blue God the following year, there were “envoys, ambassadors, dancing-doll, corps de ballet, devotees, pilgrims, pages, devils and One Hundred and Thirteen Million Ancestors”.
In 1922 the new Music Auditorium [aka Scott Hall] was opened and the dramatic clubs were allowed to use its facilities (actually a few rooms in the basement and the auditorium – after all, it was the Music Auditorium.). Original plans for the building had said that 16 rooms, including a stage, would be set aside for the theatre along with $7,500 worth of equipment. However, when the groups moved in they found 10 rooms and none of their other requests fulfilled. To furnish the spaces, theatre students gave plays, using receipts for furniture, scenery and technical equipment. They also started receiving credits through the Speech Department for dramatic activities. (5/12/1950 Daily article)
The first play in Scott Hall was Lord Dunsany’s If, an American premiere, directed by Miss McNaughton in December 1922 and produced by the National Collegiate Players organized at Minnesota under the name Pi Epsilon Delta. The performance marked a new era at Minnesota and due to the combined co-operation of all the campus clubs, it was of such caliber as to draw very favorable comment from eastern as well as local critics.” The Players were also responsible for bringing nationally known theatre artists to speak informally to the dramatic students. The organization sponsors an annual play-writing contest, offering prizes for the best original work produced by students of Minnesota.
The National Collegiate Players is a national honorary fraternity organized for the purpose of stimulating dramatics including acting, stage design, play writing, directing and other fields of theater. Its aim is to assist in raising the standards of American drama by encouraging college men and women to enter the professional field. Its members are chosen on a basis of dramatic work performed at the university or college.
Miss McNaughton writes of the 1922-1923 season in the 1924 Yearbook:
With the lighting from the new major, remote controlled switchboard, and the expressionistic setting and costumes designed by the class in play production, an excellent performance was presented to capacity houses. If is being produced in New York this spring and it of interest that Pemberton, the director, was glad to have it tried out as an experiment before a University audience….
Two important steps have been taken during the year for better dramatics. One was the enrollment of the campus clubs in the Minneapolis Dramatic Association, with the director and a student representative on the civic body’s board of directors, insuring a building up of city audiences for University plays. The step definitely recognized University dramatic activities as of civic importance. The second step is concerned in forming the seven dramatic organizations and the 400 students interested in dramatics into a University of Minnesota Dramatic Association, which will present five All-University plays each year. The clubs will present individual programs if they so desire. Such an association will conserve the interests of all, and make forever greater, Minnesota dramatics. It has been a forward looking year.
So now there are seven dramatic clubs at the University: the Agricultural Dramatic Club now known as Punchinello Players; the all-female Paint and Patches; the all-male Garrick Club (where all women’s roles are played by men); the Masquers; the Players; the National Collegiate Players; and the Arabs (all-male Engineering dramatic club where again all roles are played by men).
In the same yearbook, Carleton Miles writes in an article entitled “The Play’s the Thing”
Only to one who has watched for years the growth of dramatic work at the University is the present viewpoint possible. Classes in play-production, in lighting, in scene designing and the other accessories that go to make up a finished production acquaint the students with practical details. No visitor to a college performance can fail to understand that somewhere and somehow a love for the drama has been captured. The growth in interest is reflected not only by the high merit of the amateur offerings but by the background of intelligence that shines through the presentation. Much in the way of proper equipment still is needed; no one can doubt that importance of the work already accomplished if he shares with Shaw the thought that “a theatre is a place where two or three are gathered together.
The 1924 Yearbook [which would actually cover Spring Quarter 1922-Winter Quarter 1923] lists Punchinello Players for the first time as having 47 members and pictures the cast for The Whiteheaded Boy.
Spring of 1923 Paint and Patches gave their first big production, involving three plays: Every Woman’s Husband, Will O’ The Wisp, and The Rehearsal.
According to a Daily article in 1950: “But the clubs were tolerated rather than welcomed, and after ‘short and stormy regimes’, Miss McNaughton resigned.” The last production she may have directed was Dulcy for the Players in February of 1923.
During 1923-1924 Professor Elmer Edgar Stoll served as acting chairman of the department of English. He was an authoritative critic of Shakespeare and edited several of his plays. The administrative offices and most of the classrooms of the Academic college of Science/ Literature, and Arts were housed in Folwell Hall (built in 1907).
Several contests have now developed among five of the dramatic clubs to encourage creative work in dramatics and playwriting. The Reuben Cup was awarded for the most artistic production of the year. The 1911 Class Playwriting Prize of $40 was still awarded for original plays written by students. And the Daily Star Cup Contest was inaugurated to encourage production for the playwright under test conditions of original plays. The Play Production class held Wednesday afternoon matinees to further knowledge and interest in the theatre and a wider knowledge of plays.
Ariel McNaughton Dingwall makes a plea in the 1925 Gopher:
Dramatics have moved so fast in the past five years that the time has come to centralize talent and interest. The dramatic clubs with their fine social organization have been coming to feel the need of one large all-University organization with a central head, greater funds, more representative University equipment and with paid groups of students to handle make-up, lighting, scenery, costuming and other technical problems throughout the year with a degree of skill and on a professional basis hitherto impossible.
The University needs more facilities and money to carry on dramatics through departmental planning and control on a larger scale than the play production classes are doing at present. Dramatics, not only as a social recreation, but as an art, should be the forward look at the University.
Fall of 1923 finds Paint and Patches once again producing three plays as their major production: The Sweetmeat Game (Chinese), Riders to the Sea, and a fantasy The Wonder Hat.
Contrary to the “precedent set by University dramatic clubs which requires picking something of recent date,” Punchinello chose The Passing of the Third Floor Back by Jerome K. Jerome for their spring production, a 1908 play that “fitted so well the club’s personnel and offered excellent opportunity for character work”.
Lester R. Raines succeeds Ariel McNaughton Dingwall as director of dramatics in fall of 1924. He had been Director of Dramatics at the University of Pittsburgh where he founded the Pitt Players and at Iowa State College prior to coming to Minnesota.
[1926 Gopher] At the close of the 1924 season, there were “six small clubs, each pettily jealous of its own identity, and too poor to attempt productions requiring anything above average equipment…. A few members in each club thoroughly realized this situation, and with the cooperation of the administration and of the new director of dramatics, Lester Raines, the work of a thorough-going reconstruction was initiated. The three dramatic club presidents resigned [Paint and Patches, Players, and Masquers], and a new club [Minnesota Masquers] sprang into existence with Gerald H. Newhouse at its head. The first production of the new club took place on November 21 and 22, 1924. Captain Applejack was chosen for this date, and, contrary to the opinion of the antagonists of the consolidation plan, it was a very satisfactory performance.
Raines directed Captain Applejack for the newly re-formed Masquers. By this time, play production classes were in full swing, and an attempt was made to maintain some kind of regularity in scheduling productions. In spring of 1925, the Punchinello Dramatic Club of the Agricultural campus petitioned to be taken into Minnesota Masquers and the entire club was initiated. But they would remain a separate entity on the St. Paul campus for 50 more years.
So now we have the newly re-formed Minnesota Masquers, Pi Epsilon Delta (honorary fraternity), Punchinello, Lantern Club, the Arabs, and Garrick as the producing dramatic clubs on campus. And the continuing Dramatic Hours of the Play Production class. Whew!
Play Production class was now presenting on Thursday afternoon “Dramatic Hours”. Class was “conducted in the English department”.
The weekly Thursday afternoon Dramatic Hours are the particular work of the class. Every Thursday afternoon it sponsors something of dramatic appeal and usually the offering is a one-act play.
The work of the class deals with all phases of play production, a study which will fit the members to teach and produce the drama in secondary schools. It studies the problems of acting, the technique of the drama, problems in stagecraft, lighting, costume, directing, impersonation, and interpretation.
The Dramatic Hours plays are intended to furnish the class with the necessary practical features of their study. The plays have been directed, acted, and managed by the members of the class. The programs of the year has been decidedly varied, including productions of Moliere’s The Learned Ladies, Euripedes’ The Trojan Women, Maeterlinck’s Death of Tintagiles, Milne’s The Romantic Age, also Gammer Gurton’s Needle, Master Pierre Patelin, Why the Chimes Rang, and The Nursery Maid.
The 1926 Gopher speaks to the 1924-1925 season:
Dramatics at the University of Minnesota aim to serve a two-fold purpose at once educational and recreational. The students in the play production classes and the members of the dramatic clubs are given an opportunity to display their various talents upon the stage of our Music Hall, while the campus public is given the opportunity to witness a variety of productions chosen from the great storehouse of drama. In tune with the movement for increased emphasis upon college dramatics all over the country, Minnesota is not lagging behind.
With one of the best equipped stages in any American University, the dramatic groups of the University have endeavored to present a varied and comprehensive program. The productions have varied from the fantastic and purely spectacular to the deepest of tragedy thus giving both casts, staffs, and audiences a well-balanced program for the year. The key note has been cooperation between all the various elements in the play working for the success of the production as a whole. As the drama is a union of all the arts, so have those who have the matter in charge sought to coordinate the arts of acting, design, the dance, music, and painting for the benefit of all.
Plays of a more popular appeal have been presented by the dramatic cubs as major attractions while other plays having a more limited appeal have been presented at the Thursday afternoon Dramatic Hours by the class in play production. Various productions have been sent out over the state during the latter part of the school year, especially during vacations favorable to such projects. This is not a new thing at the University but merely revives an old custom, neglected for a little time.
It has been the endeavor of the Dramatic interest to give the students and campus public a widely varied program, and with this in mind the plays have covered a wide range of subjects. Five productions have been presented by Minnesota Masquers, the new combined organization; one by Garrick Club, an all men’s organization; and a musical comedy by the Arabs, all men’s Engineering dramatic club, in addition to the Dramatic Hours of the play production class. Several of the one-act plays presented by the latter have been given in various secondary schools in the Twin Cities.
The Minnesota chapter of the National Collegiate Players has added to the dramatic program by staging one production and sponsoring various lectures on campus upon subjects pertaining to the drama. Hospitality has been extended to visiting actors, professional and amateur, by this organization, membership in which is one of the highest honors that can be conferred for achievement in college theatricals.
With this materials and the splendid cooperation of the students interested, dramatics at the University should assume year by year greater, more varied, and consequently more interesting, proportions than ever before. [pg. 256 1926 Gopher]
The Lantern Players (aka Ye Lantern Club) were organized in 1924 and first mentioned in the 1927 Yearbook.mThis was an organization of students of the extension division of the University of Minnesota. Applicants are given tryouts before a specially appointed committee and voted into membership at the regular meeting of the organization. The purposes are as follows: to provide an opportunity for dramatic expression on part of extension division students; to develop interest in drama by practical study and application of fundamentals of play production; to encourage ability in membership of the organization by acting, writing, producing, stagecraft; to foster the new movement in the theatre. Their first production was Booth Tarkington’s The Trysting Place in spring 1925.
The first season of summer plays is presented.
1925-1926 [the Gopher 1927 yearbook corrects here to doing the full academic year of fall-winter-spring for 1925-1926]
Fall of 1925 finds four organizations fostering “the widespread modern movement to make real dramatic work part of University life.” Those behind the movement have been Minnesota Masquers, Garrick Club, the Arabs, and the University English Department which sponsors the Play Production class and the Lantern Club of the Night School Drama Class. Under Raines and his assistant, Alethea Smith,
a total of 22 plays of major importance has been presented since September of 1925, ranging in various moods from the classical comedy of Sheridan’s School for Scandal, an All-University production, to Wappin’ Wharf, by Charles Brooks, a riotous piratical fantasy, produced by the Garrick Club…. The “big” dramatic events of the campus are the plays presented by Minnesota Masquers, one each quarter and six during the summer session, and the annual presentations of the Garrick and Arab Clubs…. [1927 Gopher pg. 194]
Beginning in fall 1925 three All-University productions would be given each year with tryouts open to all undergraduates [YB 1927]. Romeo and Juliet directed by Raines was the first Shakespeare play to be presented on campus in four years – “the most ambitious of the year’s achievements.”
The Lantern Players (aka Ye Lantern Club) were organized in 1924 and first mentioned in the 1927 Yearbook. This was
an organization of students of the extension division of the University of Minnesota. Applicants are given tryouts before a specially appointed committee and voted into membership at the regular meeting of the organization. The purposes are as follows: to provide an opportunity for dramatic expression on part of extension division students; to develop interest in drama by practical study and application of fundamentals of play production; to encourage ability in membership of the organization by acting, writing, producing, stagecraft; to foster the new movement in the theatre.
Their first production was Booth Tarkington’s The Trysting Place.
In June of 1926 the Dramatic and Art departments combined with Music, the Minnesota band, the Minneapolis Symphony, and the university Choir and Chorus to perform Aida in Memorial Stadium before 12,000 spectators. Rumor has it the flats fell over during a wind storm.
Ottilie T. Seybolt takes up the duties of director of dramatics from Lester R. Raines for the 1926-1927 season. “There was no longer any doubt that the University would continue to maintain high standards in its Dramatic department and that Minnesota would enjoy another successful year.” She came to Minnesota via Smith, Vassar and the University of Wisconsin. Her plan was to limit the number of productions and stress the excellence of the offerings. Further, she stated
that there are three main functions of a college dramatic organization. First, there is the benefit to the participants in creative and co-operative work. Second, such an organization enables the public to see worth while plays that cannot be practically produced in a professional theatre because of the peculiar conditions of the commercial stage. The third and most important function is the development of an appreciative audience, which will require that better plays be produced in the theatre. (Gopher Yearbook 1928, pg. 190)
The All-University play was The Importance of Being Earnest sponsored by the National Collegiate Players. Two days before opening, the actor playing John Worthing was taken ill. Richard Lindsay stepped in and though “forced to read the lines, did a very commendable piece of work.” Flowers were used in advertising the production, tagged with the line “I never have my appetite unless I have my buttonhole first”, and distributed around campus by the various dramatic organizations. The group continued t support the visits of several prominent professionals to the campus.
The dramatic hours were dispensed with, except for a program of three one-act plays presented each quarter under the Play Production Class supervision. This year’s offerings: (fall) The Boy Comes Home; The Rising Moon; My Lady’s Lace; (winter) A Sunny Morning, The Knave of Hearts, The Serpent’s Tooth; (spring) 1911 Class Drama Contest prize-winning play.
The Minnesota Masquers Winter Quarter production of The Devil’s Disciple featured the return to campus of Enza Zellar as Mrs. Dudgeon, the mother of the title role character. The Thirteenth Chair was the club’s annual mystery play – “tense melodrama and terrorizing enough for the most frequent theatre goer.” There was elaborate scenery and “lighting effects greatly added to the success of the play.”
The denouement of the play was brought about by the appearance of the knife, the loss of which contributed to the mystery of the plot. The special mechanism, which enabled the knife to be dropped from the wall at the crucial moment, was loaned to the Masquers for this production by A. G. Bainbridge, manager of the Shubert Theater in Minneapolis. (Gopher Yearbook 1928, pg. 197.)
There was no Garrick Club presentation this year. The Arabs fifth production entitled Broadcast was another joining the past productions accredited with having “been of extremely high caliber, and noted chiefly for their bizarre and unique qualities.” The second season of six plays was produced in the summer.
In 1927, Speech divided from English and Frank M. Rarig became the first chairman of the newly created Speech Department, which included rhetoric, drama and speech pathology.
During Rarig's tenure as department chairman, the study of both theatre and public speaking gained in stature. His goal was to produce plays that would command respect from the community and Twin Cities theater critics. Under his leadership, enrollment in speech classes grew from one class to as many as 18 sections of beginning speech. The study of theatre as a discipline was now available.
Edward Staadt succeeded Ottilie Seybolt as Director of Dramatics, and, under his supervision, the Theatre Workshop was formed in 1928 as the central organization for producing plays on campus and for tours. The purpose was to centralize the supervision of training and secure university-wide cooperation. The Workshop was a co-operative working agreement between the Masquers, the National Collegiate Players, and Garrick Club which assumed “control of the finances and production of all plays on campus” under the budget-home of the Speech Department. [We are now one serious step closer to the University Theatre.] The new production scheduling:
Minnesota Masquers now present one play each quarter, with the theatre workshop giving an annual all-university play. Garrick and national Collegiate players each present one production a year to complete the program of six major productions. Other groups now only indirectly connected with the workshop are: Punchinello, Lantern Club…and the Arabs. [Yearbook 1930]
Staadt’s background as a dramatist, actor, and playwright brought several new ideas in stagecraft to Minnesota where he sought “to place the drama in a significant and dignified position among curricular activities rather than merely a field for recreational expression.” Staadt hired Tom F. Russell from Carnegie Tech and the Goodman Memorial Theatre as the first technical director in the theatre – he also designed sets for the season.
Staadt’s first production was William Archer’s The Green Goddess which played to record audiences. The settings for the production were done by the Masquers themselves though the wrecked airplane needed for one of the scenes came by way of the Engineering campus. The play made “use of Russian and Hindoo with care on the part of the actors for correct pronunciation.” The Winter Quarter Masquers production of Nice People received commendation for the innovation of “new and radical methods of staging” by Staadt [translation: actors turned their backs to the audience]. “Characters were grouped and placed in unusual positions upon the stage, not by any rules of theatre craft, but by the laws of reality.”
He was assisted by Miss Mabel Cook this year. Dorothy Ann Erehart designed the souvenir programs for each of the season’s plays. Tom Russell designed settings for the entire group of plays.
Garrick Club inaugurated a new policy “of admitting women to the tryouts for the annual play … with the result that Outward Bound represented, perhaps, the best thing that has ever been done on this campus.” The group announced to the public “its purpose to create a greater interest in dramatics at the university and give greater expression to the ideals and character of the eminent gentleman of the theatre of all time – David Garrick.” The Club also broadcast semi-monthly dramatic hours from the university radio station.
The Lantern Club was still active with a production of Owen Davis’ Icebound in the Music Auditorium in March. The play about New England’s “blue and narrow side, has much good comedy in it; comedy which the players made both evident and pleasing to their audience.” [1929 pg. 188]
Punchinello Players: During the past year the players have been assisted by W. R. (Jack) Miller, the professor in charge of the Department of Speech on the St. Paul campus, who was interested and experienced in presentation. At this time Punchinello was still grouped in the “amalgamation” of drama clubs on the main campus. Through his efforts the club produced three one-act plays which met with instantaneous approval. “The past year presented a new Punchinello to university audiences, a Punchinello more interesting and finished in its work, with the goal of dramatic perfection well in sight”. The following year, 1928-1929, under the capable leadership of William J. Routledge, the group presented two plays as an independent group on their own campus. Proceeds from these plays enabled the group to purchase additional equipment and perceptibly increase its membership. The following year Punchinello moved into their theatre home on the St. Paul campus. With the exception of students working independently in/for both Eastbank and St. Paul productions (and cooperation when requested) in the future, there is no longer any association between Punchinello and Minneapolis campus dramatics.
This year brought change to the Play Production Class:
The course during the past year extended over three quarters with rigorous training in Directing, History of the Stage, Principles, and Stage-craft. Active participation was added by the presentation of about nine one-act plays per quarter, which the class directed, stage, and acted themselves. There were three noteworthy plays of the past season: So That’s That by John Weaver, Finder’s Keepers by George Kelly, and Mr. Staadt’s…own play Cabbages.
… A workshop is being constructed in Room 19 of the Music Building in which will be housed a life-size, work-a-day stage, for the careful planning, equipping, and lighting of any play the campus may select. Here, too, new types of scenery may be worked out and built especially for any production.
A visit to Room 19 may not impress the outsider by its extreme perfection of detail, but a closer examination of the stage, which is built at one end of the workshop, will give a clearer insight into the work which the dramatic cubs have expended to give Minnesota something unique. Here, mathematically correct to the minutest point, has been constructed a stage for the purpose of classroom problems in dramatic technique. Dimmers regulate the flooding of accurately placed lights for the correct perspective from the audience. The Theatre Workshop serves alike as an inspiration and working plan for the university dramatists.
[And thus is born Scott Studio Theatre, though the original version had the stage at the opposite end of the room from the 1960’s version! 1929 pg. 190-191]
The Arabs annual production was High Pressure actually set in Arabia against a “background of desert sheiks, tourists stalled with broken motors, and a hot-dog stand, manfully run by a young slip of a thing who knew her sodas and pop.” Plot was written by Charles Peterson, vice-president of the Arabs, with music composed by Avnor Rakov, and costumes by Nathan Juran, under the direction of Carl Mathias Wise. These productions typically cast a gazillion males in all roles.
1928-1929 The 1930 YEARBOOK plays catch-up – two academic years crammed into one yearbook.
[The 1930 Gopher Yearbook includes both 1928-1929 and 1929-1930 seasons for drama. From this point forward, O ye who research, the yearbooks actually record the previous academic year; for example, the 1931 yearbook actually records the 1930-1931 academic year.]
The supervision and much of the actual production work is now being done by the Theatre Workshop organized by Edward Staadt last year. The 1930 Yearbook also yielded the following nostalgic picture for those in lighting during the 1970-2008 time period – sigh…..
In March of 1929, Staadt’s play Oh! Oh! Gertrude received production by the Theatre Workshop. In an evening billed as “Tragedy, Comedy, and Farce”, this was the farce of the evening. Pictured below are Charlotte Larson and Frank James on the couch, Leona Hynes in black, Ruth Peterson as the other on-looker, and Winifred Sharpstene as the maid.
In May of 1929, Professor Henry Morse as a student actor made history during The Queen’s Husband when “one of the ‘effects’ tore a large chunk of plaster from the ceiling and laid him low for some 20 minutes while Boy Scouts administered first aid.”
The Masquers production of Beggar on Horseback was “epoch-making in dramatic history at the University of Minnesota. It was the successful result of an attempt to put outstanding productions on the University stage. Future productions will have a high standard of perfection to aim at if they attempt to equal this stellar production.”
The Garrick Club’s 1930 production of Hell Bent fer Heaven introduced actor Richard Carlson to the university stage: “In the cast, first honors in acting must go to Richard Carlson who played Rufe Pryor, hypocritical mountaineer and theologist. His performance left nothing to be desired.” Carlson was probably best known for the movies King Solomon’s Mines (1950), It Came From Outer Space (1953), and Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), and the television series “I Led Three Lives” (1953-1956). Kendrick Wilson also appeared in this production and “gave a pleasing interpretation” of the character “Old Rooster” Hunt, “a common sense philosopher who ruled by might, softened by age”.
The Masquers fall production of Aren’t We All included Kendrick Wilson and “for the first time in campus dramatics, that well-known and all-around actor, George Spelvin, appeared in the cast.”
Comin’ Thru the Rye was toured by the road troupe of the Theatre Workshop. Written especially for the road production by Edward Staadt, the play dealt with woman’s eternal struggle with man. The cast alternated some roles between fall and spring tours, including Mr. Staadt stepping in as the Iceman. In the initial period of 1903-1930, at least fourteen full-length plays had been taken to more than 134 towns in Minnesota, Iowa, and North Dakota. Over 150 students participated.
Punchinello continued to advance the cause of drama in St. Paul. “A small theatre has been furnished, complete sets have been built, and again group membership has increased. The club has enjoyed four presentations and has gone on a road trip on which they presented Laff That Off.” The group plans to follow the custom on the main campus and present one play each quarter. Mr. Routledge continues in charge of this year’s plays. He also acted in the National Collegiate Players production of Ten Nights in a Barroom and played one of the leading roles in the Garrick Club’s production of The Great Galeoto.
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