Curtain Time: Act 1, 1880-1920

First men's glee club organized, in combination with the University Mandolin Club.

November 1894

" ... A Theatrical Club has been organized at the University for the purpose of rendering, during the collegiate year, one or more plays; it promises to be a very enjoyable affair" (Student Life).
The group takes the name of Myrtle and Maroon Dramatics Club.

December 1894
Thumbnail: cover from Myrtle & Maroon performance of A GRAIN OF

" ... The first performance [of the Myrtle and Maroon Dramatics Club] will be given January 17th next at the Germania Theater, and the play selected for the occasion is one written by Professor Dumay and entitled A Grain of Truth.. It is a good humored, but keen satire on certain ludicrous phases of American society life, and has been pronounced a thorough success by those competent to judge. The members are rehearsing three times a week, and are making rapid progress. The formation of the Club marks an era in the life of the University ..."
(Student Life).

January 1905
University takes possession of the Hilltop Campus following the close of the World's Fair. A room between the towers of Brookings serves as the campus' first chapel, and a student-led Chapel Choir provides music at the weekly services. A room on the west side of Cupples II (now Room 107) is assigned to the dramatics club. Later known as "Thyrsus Theater," Cupples II Room 107 served as an important rehearsal and performing space until the early 20s, when Thyrsus Theater moved to a YMCA hut south of today's Umrath Hall. The stage in Cupples Hall was on the north end of the room, approximately 16 feet deep, with room for an audience of seventy. Actors entered through a backstage window and any dressing that could be done in the public eye was done in front of the curtain.

Thumbnail of program from THE TITLE MART The Title Mart bids fair to break the record of Dramatic Club productions. Advance orders for seats have been so numerous that even before the tickets were issued almost half the house had been sold for the evening performance. Without doubt, the "S.R.O." sign will be hung out tonight. Indications point to a good matinee crowd also. Reports from the committee in charge [of] the Temple Israel benefit state that standing room was being sold over a week ago, and that a very pretty sum will be realized. They say that the fact that the Dramatic Club of W.U. is giving the play is causing a great demand for the seats. Verily, our fame is spreading. The cry is: If we only had an auditorium!" (Student Life)

February 20, 1907
image show name THYRSUS "What's in a name? This was one of the chief topics discussed at the regular meeting of the Dramatic Club last Wednesday. After mature deliberation the club selected for its official name, "Thyrsus," suggested by Prof. Holmes Smith and proposed to the club by Mr. Starbird. The name signifies a pine cone, which was the symbol of Dionysus, the Greek god of the drama. In selecting such a name, the club is doing wisely, as the former name was entirely too long and too ordinary, while "Thyrsus" is terse, sounds well, and has some significance." (Student Life)

First women's glee club forms.

Thumbnail - Graham Chapel interior, ca. 1909 Graham Chapel dedicated; Chapel Choir reorganizes under the direction of Charles Galloway, University Organist, who directs the group until his death in 1932.

Fannie Hurst, in costume for THE GOOD NATURED MAN, 1907 1909
Fannie Hurst (AB 1909) writes the book and lyrics for the senior class play, The Official Chaperone. Hurst recruits Arthur Proetz (AB 1910) as musical director for the production, and for the next several years, Proetz's song writing talents would be an integral part of W.U. student theater. Proetz described the music for Official Chaperone as "written by a number of first-line contemporary composers with shows currently on Broadway, whether they knew it or not." (Washington University Alumni Bulletin, 1950)

Cover from program for QUADRANGLE TOWN 1910
Arthur Proetz collaborates with Hugh M. Ferris (AB 1910) on the senior class play, Quadrangle Town. Proetz described the show as, "a full-blown musical with all the trimmings ... The orchestra was led by Gustave Haenschen [class of 1912], in those days an engineer. His orchestral arrangements were beautiful, but so new was he to the business that, instead of using score paper, he had a dozen sheets scattered over the furniture in his room in [Prince Hall], scampering from one room to another with a fountain pen and back to the piano for the next bar." The success of Quadrangle Town sparked student interest in a second dramatics group, whose purpose was the production of original student musicals. This group took the name "Quadrangle Club", and its yearly productions became known as "Quad Shows".

Thumbnail of cover from program to PIERRETTE 1911
The second annual Quad Show, again a collaboration of Proetz and Ferris. "When the curtain went up on Pierrette there were 60 students on stage, 25 musicians from the symphony orchestra in the pit, still under the Haenschen baton, and the rest of the show to match ... One feature of the show was the "Pony Ballet" The girls were beautiful and no doubt talented, but the footwork was badly obscured by ankle-length Tarleton dresses of brilliant canary, let down to that level by order of the powers in McMillan Hall." (Arthur Proetz, in Washington University Alumni Bulletin, 1950).

Spring 1916
Scene from MAID OF MCMILLAN Thyrsus produces its first silent movie, The Maid of McMillan, which premieres at Univee Surkuss (today's Thurtene Carnival). Written and filmed by students and shot almost entirely on campus, Maid of McMillan told the story of Jack Tower, track team captain and his sweetheart, Myrtle Maroon. In addition to the student cast, Chancellor Frederic Aldin Hall and track coach Bill Edmunds made cameo appearances. The film played both on campus and in local movie houses, and Thyrsus planned another movie for the following year. Unfortunately, the planned movie was never produced. Re-discovered in 1982 by a student doing research on the history of Thurtene, The Maid of McMillan is the oldest surviving film of Washington University.

Thumbnail - W.G.B. Carson as the Stage Manager, in OUR TOWN, 1952 W.G.B. Carson, as the Stage Manager in Our Town, 1952. (left)
W.G.B. (William Glasgow Bruce) Carson, a W.U. and Thyrsus alumnus, joins the English faculty. His playwriting class, known as English 16 (now Drama 351) was described by one of his students as "a club, a contest, and a tradition." Carson's English 16 students wrote vignettes during the semester and a one-act play instead of a final exam. Plays were submitted to a jury of W.U. faculty, and the best three plays were produced with a student cast. Another jury would watch the performances, all performed in one night, and award a cash prize to the winning play.

Soon after Carson's arrival, Thyrsus moved out of Cupples II and into an ex-YMCA hut near Umrath Hall, a space which Carson described as "one of the dreariest 'temples of the muses' this city has ever known. Yet it was in these depressing surroundings that two of the brightest lights in the club's history first shone. These were Florence Walters Hagee (AB 1923) and Morris Carnovsky (AB 1920), both with gifts far beyond the ordinary, both capable of going far and rising to great heights in the theater. That is exactly what [Carnovsky] has done, and today he is well established in enviable positions both on Broadway and in Hollywood." (Washington University Alumni Bulletin, 1947)

[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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