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Archive for the ‘Theatre history’ 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.

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

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Program from the March 1896 production of The Rivals.

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

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

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.”

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Costumes and set in 1941.

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Behind the scenes in 1941.

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A set design sketch for the 1941 production.

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

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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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If you follow this blog –and you should– then you know that Amherst has a lot of collections from missionary families.  Because I work with these collections a lot, especially in arranging and describing new ones, I’ve settled into a comfortable theory about how the work of missionaries changed over the decades and generations.  I notice a first generation of “strict missionaries” whose goal is first and foremost to spread the gospel.  Their children, often born and raised abroad, speak two or three languages, and they know their parents’ work and where it succeeded and where it failed.  They’re still usually missionaries working for the American Board, but their work often branches into teaching at primary and middle-school levels, or working in a medical clinic.  A third generation is even more removed from the original mission work and its members become professors or doctors. Fourth and fifth generations might see some diplomats, government professionals, and journalists.  The shift feels linear.  But I always knew this way of thinking was a broad generalization, and too comfortable.  I knew there would be someone to rock the boat, to mess with my theory — to zig where so many seemed to zag.

Mary Averett Seelye, ca. 1965

Mary-Averett Seelye, ca. 1965

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[Note: since this will be my last post on The Consecrated Eminence, I feel no need to apologize for opening with such a horrible pun.]

The Howard B. Hamilton Japanese Theater Papers will be an extraordinary resource for the study of both Japanese culture and theater performance. It documents the frankly amazing avocational activity of an American medical researcher in post-World War II Japan who, over the course of 30 years, went on to become one of the leading performers on the noh stage – quite unusual for any non-Japanese.

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Howard B. Hamilton, MD (1918-2007)

Hamilton’s papers, consisting chiefly of photographic images, programs, albums, film, video, and printed matter, were acquired as a gift five years ago and are now being arranged, described and prepared for research use. Work on the collection has been challenging and time-consuming, since none of us here professes any expert knowledge in Japanese noh theater. (Archival processing always has an educational element.)

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Need an idea for Halloween? See the photograph below from a costume party in Turkey, ca. 1920-21, except for the French soldiers, who are real and probably on duty (which doesn’t rule out their garb for your party purposes). The other men are in “Pierrot” costume, perhaps inspired on this occasion by the popularity of “Yama Yama Man,” a strange song and dance routine not to be missed for your daily dose of weirdness from another place and time.

The photograph is from an album formerly belonging to Dorothea Nesbitt Chambers (Blaisdell), daughter of missionaries William N. and Cornelia P.W. Chambers.  Dorothea, a Bryn Mawr graduate, was a hardworking but fun-loving woman who grew up in Turkey and worked there for the YWCA before her marriage in 1926.  She is probably the photographer here.

Friends of Dot Chambers in Turkey (probably Adana).  Photograph from the Williams-Chambers-Seelye-Blaisdell Papers.

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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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This is part of an ongoing series of entries being written about the Samuel French archives at Amherst College

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M. Abbott Van Nostrand served as the head of theatrical publishing company Samuel French, Inc. for an incredible thirty-eight years, from 1952 until his retirement in 1990. Early on, he realized that French’s history and output could be immensely valuable to scholars, performers, and theatrical enthusiasts.

Van Nostrand approached Amherst College (his alma mater) in 1964, offering a gift of Samuel French records and publications to the Amherst College Library. Over the next fifty years, the library accepted more than four hundred and fifty linear feet of unprocessed archival material including thousands of plays and publications, photographs, costume design illustrations, acting editions, musical scores, theatrical ephemera, and documentation of the Samuel French’s business transactions dating back to the mid 1800’s. (Take a moment to watch Mr. Van Nostrand talk about his experiences working at Samuel French in these oral history videos from 1994!) (more…)

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The Archives & Special Collections is delighted to announce that we are one of just 22 institutions to receive a “Hidden Collections” grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources. CLIR launched the “Hidden Collections” program in 2008, supported by funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation with this purpose in mind:

This program seeks to address this problem by awarding grants for supporting innovative, efficient description of large volumes of material of high value to scholars.

Amherst was awarded funding to hire a full-time archivist for two years to process the massive collection of manuscripts and published materials that document the business activities of Samuel French, Inc. The job description and application details will be announced in February; the start date for the project is June 2014.

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Examples of theatrical typescripts in the collection.

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