Curtain Time: Act 3, 1940-1995

Music Department founded.

"A vibrant, almost passionate interest in the performing arts has bubbled to the surface at Washington University this year, perhaps stimulated by the University's fast-developing plans to build a major performing arts center on campus. Students in increasing numbers are attending chamber concerts sponsored by the Department of Music. Freshmen and sophomores swelled membership in Thyrsus, the University dramatic organization, to the highest point in years; and Thyrsus has produced such challenging works as Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman and will stage Samuel Beckett's avant garde Waiting for Godot. Probably the most significant development of all was the presentation in December of John Marston's early seventeenth century comedy The Dutch Courtezan by students living in the Forsyth Residence Halls. With only minimum direction from the Masters and Faculty Fellows of the Forsyth Houses, but with maximum imagination and resourcefulness, the students converted the lounge area in the northwest bay of Wohl Center into a theater. Philip W. London and William B. Long, drama-oriented instructors in the Department of English, staged the play and provided the necessary leadership and impetus for the students; all other work was done by the undergraduates themselves, many of whom had had no previous theatrical training or experience."

"About 1200 persons saw the three performances of The Dutch Courtezan, with several hundred more turned away for lack of seats. A controversy quickly arose: Student Life's reviewer, along with some spectators, felt the play was an unwise choice because it bawdiness was not redeemed by literary or dramatic merit. Students and faculty, citing the play's artistic vitality as ample justification, leaped to the defense in a battle waged in the Letters column."

"When the smoke had cleared, at least one major conclusion had emerged: students at Washington University, particularly those in the Forsyth Houses, are bursting with creative energy for performing arts projects like The Dutch Courtezan. The enthusiastic students who produced it have formed the nucleus of a new, informal dramatic group which will offer the Elizabethan melodrama The Changeling and several experimental productions this spring".
(Washington University Magazine)

W.U. Choir and Madrigal Singers perform at New York's Town Hall and the National Cathedral in Washington DC. Said a New York Times Reviewer: "Two prides of St. Louis made a fine impression ... The Choir, some 55 voices strong, sang in a consistently pleasing manner with a buoyant spirit ... while the Madrigal Singers provided precision and fluidity of sound ... what supple, beguiling sounds they made and what a remarkable dynamic range they possessed."

Professors Herbert Metz (Performing Arts) and William M. Sale (Classics) collaborate on a new production of Sophocles' Oedipus Rex. Metz said of the production, "We took a certain stand. We wanted the play to stand as a worthwhile theatrical experience, not as an historically accurate spectacle in which the play is lost to a modern audience. We wanted a powerful, stark experience. It produced no wishy-washy audience reactions. It was either hated or adored." (Washington University Magazine)

"Two of the most vital traditions at Washington University for decades were Quad Show, an annual spring musical ... and Bearskin Follies, a competitive production of original skits that displayed a wide cross-section of the university. Alumni, students, and many faculty watched in dismay in recent years as first Quad Show, and then Bearskin Follies lurched to their deaths because of rising costs, declining student interest, and a general failure to redefine the purpose and objectives of these productions. Last spring a small group of students began to prove with their energy, talent,a nd zeal the falsity of the recurrent charges that students on the Hilltop are apathetic, lazy, and passive. With fewer than a dozen members, the group asked for and was given responsibility for all WU musical shows under the organizational name of Kadadiz. The meaning and origin of the name are lost in the mists of pre-history, according to the publicity director of the group, but -- depending on whom you ask, it may be derived from the ancient Persian word for "greatness" or the Babylonian phrase meaning "in doing is all joy," or some other bit of esoterica. Kadadiz's angels immediately set about their self-appointed task of filing campus air with song by producing the off-Broadway musical hit "The Fantasticks" for the summer school in July. Plans are now well advanced for a revival of Bearskin Follies in late November or early December, and Quad Show will definitely present a full-scale Broadway musical in April ... There is a new spirit of commitment in the air at the University this fall and Kadadiz has done much to bring it about."
(Washington University Magazine)

Performing Arts Area established; Professor Annalise Mertz establishes the University's first degree program in dance. One of Mertz's students, Alison Becker Chase (AB 1969), later became a member of Pilobolus Dance Theatre.

"There is little doubt that the Performing Arts Area at Washington University is on the move ... but right now, when it presents a production, it has no place to go but Brown Hall. And Brown Hall, for many reasons, is abonimably unsuitable. In November, with Kadadiz taking over the Brown stage for its Once Upon a Mattress production the actors in A Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window had to squeeze themselves into the scene production studio on Millbrook in order to rehearse. Annelise Mertz's dancers rehearse in sterile isolation way down in Wilson Studio to the accompaniment of the splashing swimmers next door. Harold Blumenfeld's opera singers practice in a great barn of a room in McMillan Hall. That is, some of them do. The rest are crowded into two rooms which he likens to closets and the result, when rehearsals are in full swing, is comparable, he says to 'a three-ring circus'. Of the situation, Blumenfeld says, 'This is the only major university (pubic or private) in the whole country that doesn't have a theater. We are all doomed to mark time until there is a theater ... we have so much to offer and no place to offer it.'" (Washington University Magazine)

Edison Theater dedicated, giving Washington University an on-campus theater for the first time in its history.

Portrait of Morris Carnovsky Carnovsky in performance as King Lear
Morris Carnovsky returns to Washington University to play the title role in King Lear, with an otherwise student cast. The event, sponsored by the Performing Arts Area, sells out for all six performances, and the proceeds go to student scholarships in the Performing Arts Area.

Thumbnail of Tennessee WilliamsTennessee Williams returns to Washington University for the first time in 40 years, to a warm and enthusiastic reception. While at the University, Williams participates in an informal discussion session with W.U. students in the Women's Building Lounge and reads his poems to a packed house in Graham Chapel.

"At the Chapel assembly, Williams read several of his poems and one short story in a slow, soft, expressive voice with more than a hint of his original Southern accent. His performance met with respectful silence during the readings and long, loud applause after each excerpt. It was a warm welcome home after forty years. Williams remarked that he really had fond memories of the University over that forty-year span, 'especially of the poetry club, Eliot magazine, and the swimming pool ... Actually, the only happy times I had in St. Louis were at Washington University.'" (Washington University Magazine, Fall 1977)

A.E. Hotchner presents to the University a grant establishing an annual playwriting contest for Washington University students and reinstating the playwriting course formerly taught by W.G.B. Carson (formerly English 16, now Drama 351) in the Performing Arts Area.

Piker logo Washington University Piker Society formed. The formation of the Pikers, who took their name from the amusement area of the 1904 World's Fair, owed much to two University administrators: Justin Carroll and Harry Kisker. Kisker, then Dean of Students, had come to the University in 1978 with the charge of bolstering student activities on campus. In 1985, Carroll, then Director of Residential Life, went to Boston on a business trip for the University -- while there he heard a men's a cappella group from the University of Vermont. When Carroll returned to St. Louis, he and Kisker agreed that a men's a cappella singing group should be organized at W.U. Kisker played an important role in finding interested students, and providing funding during the group's early years. The Pikers began as a barbershop ensemble, but over the years, the group's repertoire has expanded to include pop, rock, and vocal jazz.

The success of the Pikers has led to the formation of an all-women's a cappella ensemble (The Greenleafs, 1988) and two co-ed ensembles (Mosaic Whispers and Amateurs, both formed in 1991). Greenleaf logo

All of today's a cappella groups enjoy a sizeable following on campus and their invitational concerts - Jammin' Toast (sponsored by the Pikers), Green Eggs and Jam (Greenleafs), and Splash of Color (Mosaic Whispers) play to capacity audiences. These concerts have brought to campus some of the finest collegiate a cappella groups in the country, including the Yale Spizzwinks(?), Oberlin College Obertones, Tufts University Beelzebubs, Stanford University Fleet Street Singers, University of Michigan Amazin' Blue, and Cornell University Touchtones.
MOSAIC WHISPERS Amateurs logo Pikers in performance Greenleafs in performance

Performing Arts Department announces the winners of the first annual A.E. Hotchner Playwriting Competition. The winners, both graduate students in the English Department's MFA program, were Richard Byrne, Jr ., for his play Untangling Ava and Rick Watson, for his play The Red Wheelbarrow. In addition to a cash award, both authors' plays were staged in Edison Theater, as part of the University's regular performing arts programming, a tradition which continues to this day. Thumbnail - Pep Band in performance, 1989
Pep Band in performance, 1989

Mary Wickes leaves her personal papers and professional memorabilia to Washington University Libraries Department of Special Collections. Wickes' papers will join scripts and papers by Tenessee Williams and A.E. Hotchner to enrich the drama and theater resources in the Modern Literature Collection. Wickes' bequest also includes a gift of $2 million, which will be used by the Libraries to support the University's evolving curriculum in film studies.
Thumbnail - Chamber Choir performing at Mark Wrighton's inauguration,
Chamber Choir, directed by John Stewart, performing at the inauguration of Chancellor Mark Wrighton, 1995

[Overture] [Act1] [Act 2] [Act 3] [Featured Players] [Curtain Call]

This online exhibit "Curtain Time" was created in 1997, and is hosted by University Archives,
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