THE NINETEEN FIFTIES
1950-1951 (according to Doc “The Golden Age of University Theatre 1950-1958)
The Repertory Players were revived for the 1950-51 touring season and performed 153 times in the fall of 1950. There were also tours of Night Must Fall and She Stoops to Conquer during that year. Dark of the Moon was brought upstairs to the mainstage for a repeat in fall. Winter Quarter opened with Merle Loppnow directing Personal Appearance for the first time at the University (a play he was to repeat for the opening of the Arena Theatre in Rarig Center some 20 years later). Donald Woods directed East Lynne with olios and a traditional showboat-esque program.
One of the highlights of 1951 was Whiting's staging of the The Medium which was attended by Herbert Groffe of the Metropolitan Opera. Rumor has it that a fire burned the sound room during this production…. The spring version ran with The Maid as Mistress; the summer version ran with The Telephone – both with musical direction by James Aliferis of the Department of Music. The summer of 1951 saw the University Theatre sponsor, for the first time, a high school workshop involving both teachers and students, culminating with a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, staged by Frank Whiting and performed by the students.
When Mort Walker left the designer/TD position after Spring Quarter of 1951, Loppnow and Joncas took charge of the shop for the summer plays. This arrangement continued through the beginning of Wendell Josal’s tenure since Merle was the only one who knew “who knows the basic, who, what, when, where.”
In 1951 the department name changed to the Department of Speech and Theatre Arts with Elmer W. Ziebarth as chair..
Fall quarter produced The Consul, The Heiress, The Gondoliers (produced in the round in the Comstock Hall ballroom), The Blue Bird (YPUT), and Papa is All. Starting with the production of Billy Budd in Winter Quarter, the University Theatre put 20 percent of each ticket sold into the University Theatre Building Fund. This step was part of a larger plan to promote interest in the support of a new theatre building. An optimistic letter by newly promoted full-Professor Whiting discussing the proposed new build¬ing and ways the alumni could contribute was printed that year in a University Theatre newsletter. The optimism was still a little bit early.
When produced, Billy Budd attracted further attention since Charles Nolte, a former University Theatre student, had created the role starring in the original Broad¬way production. That performance led him to be named the most promising young actor of the season by the New York critics. Billy Budd was followed by Knickerbocker Holiday, Pygmalion, and Ali Baba. Receiving excellent notices spring was Hamlet, which featured Shirley Jeppson Brabeck as Ophelia, David Moran as Hamlet, and future Hollywood star, Robert Vaughn, as Laertes. The production was revived for the summer.
June’s production of L’Histoire de Soldat in conjunction with the International Society for Contemporary Music brought back the flames of yesteryear when a fire broke out in Scott Hall’s basement. Although the entire basement was burned out, the play went on. August found John Astin [think The Addams Family among many other television and film roles], as Elwood P. Dowd in Harvey – a role he would repeat in winter of 1953 while on tour with the University's Theatre-on-Tour troupe. A pattern of producing a play in summer and then touring it the next winter had emerged. We also produced plays in the spring and returned them in summer —this year’s Hamlet.
Aladdin directed by Moulton for YPUT opened the 1952-53 season, followed by the world premiere of New York playwright William Gibson’s A Cry of Players to rave reviews. Another world premiere of The Witchfinders written by Louis O. Coxe, professor of English, and Robert Chapman followed in Scott Studio Theatre with Lee Adey in a featured role.
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