Archive for the ‘Dramatic Activities Collection’ Category

In celebration of the College’s bicentennial in 1821, we’re reprocessing several large collections in the archives. One of these is the Dramatic Activities Collection – material assembled by Tuffy McGoun, a professor of dramatics at the College. The collection documents the history of dramatic productions and activities on campus. It’s a long history – our first production ephemera dates from 1826!

In addition to giving a great overview of the dramatic life of the college, the collection is an excellent resource for showing trends in design over the decades. Nowhere is this more evident than in comparing several different productions of the same play. I’ve chosen two popular plays to show examples of how different productions handled costumes, set design, and publicity in different decades.

Our first play – The Rivals, a comedy of manners by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, was first performed in 1775. The plot follows the romantic intrigue between several visitors of the town of Bath, England, a popular holiday spot at the time. The play is somewhat forgotten today – though it did give us the term malaprop, derived from the character of Mrs. Malaprop (who unintentionally substitutes the wrong term for similar-sounding words throughout).

The first Amherst College production took place June of 1843. It was performed three other times: March 1896, February 1906, and May 1963.


Program from the June 1843 production of scenes from The Rivals. Part of the Amherst College Summer Exhibition


Program from the March 1896 production of The Rivals.


Playbill for the 1896 production, performed at the Academy of Music at Northampton. Touts “college men. Costly scenery. Elaborate costumes.”


Cast photograph of the 1896 “Rivals.” Annotations on the back state that this was the first College production to go on tour.


The 1906 “Rivals” program, by the Amherst College Dramatics Association.


Program from a Ware, Massachusetts performance. The penciled annotation says: “The night the curtain came down on Deroin’s head.” Frank Deroin (AC 1908) played the character of Bob Acres.


The 1963 production program. Kirby Memorial Theater was built in 1938.


A production photograph from 1963 depicting the characters Julia and Faulkland.

The second play I chose comes from Shakespeare – the Scottish play! Macbeth was performed at Amherst College in January 1910, November 1941, November 1965, and November 1995. The documentation for the 1941 production is particularly rich, showing the effort that went into the set design and costumes.


A program for the 1910 performance. Note: this wasn’t quite a dramatic production, rather a “reading by members of the Junior Class in public speaking.”


Costumes and set in 1941.



Behind the scenes in 1941.


A set design sketch for the 1941 production.


Program for the 1965 production. This aesthetic look persisted into the 1970s.


Program for the 1995 production.


These images represent only a small slice of the collection which stands at about 72 linear feet of material. As part of the Bicentennial project in the library, we’ll be digitizing a lot of this material in the coming years.




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We’re going to devote this post to taking a peek at the rich visual materials in the Amherst College Dramatic Activities Collection. This is but a very small taste of the large collection of photographs, playbills, costume sketches, set designs, props and recordings of Amherst College theatrical productions to be found in the Dramatic Activities Collection.

H. M. S. Pinafore, produced in June of 1879 by the Glee Club in College Hall.


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Drama and theater have long played an important role in student life at Amherst College. Our Dramatic Activities Collection contains evidence of student and faculty performances all the way back to the early 19th century. Clyde Fitch (Class of 1886) was a major force in student theatricals, both on and off the stage, during his time at Amherst. He went on to become one of the most popular playwrights in the United States; a spectacular career that was cut short by his untimely death in 1909. On Thursday, October 23, 2014 we are holding an event in the Clyde Fitch Room in Converse Hall to celebrate the life and career of Clyde Fitch as part of LGBT History Month.

The Country Girl 1884 2

Clyde Fitch in “The Country Girl” at Amherst College, 1884.


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1875 Jul

Many students have fantasized about burning their textbooks, maybe some have even done so, but few taken it to the level of the Amherst College students of the 1860s to 1880s. In Archives and Special Collections, we have programs, photographs, newspapers articles and other ephemera from 14 ceremonial textbook burnings during these decades. The general formula seems to involve the freshmen burning (what we presume to be single representative volumes of) their first year mathematics textbooks in a boisterous late night ceremony, often complete with band, bier, funerary oration and throngs of wailing mourners. Programs were created in secret and handed out surreptitiously. Often the sophomores attempted to disrupt the proceedings and the faculty took a very dim view of the affairs, particularly in the early years.


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