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Boar's Head Dramatic Society of Syracuse University: Visitors of Note

The Boar's Head Dramatic Society was instrumental in bringing professionals from the theatrical world to campus, both as performers and teachers. Boar's Head members themselves returned to campus as alumni to share their knowledge and provide encouragement to students. This section introduces or reintroduces a selection of alumni, professionals and lecturers under the marquee of "Visitors of Note."

Introduction to Visitors of Note

Bergenon, Mrs.Falk and Reidenbaugh in 1962. [Archives Image 10-0294] Inviting noted theatre professionals to the SU campus was a practice which dated back to the 1920s. A production of Beyond the Horizon in 1920 was directed by Mrs. Thurston Vail Darling of NYC who had widespread recognition as an actress and director. Matinee and evening performances were presented in the historic Wieting Opera House in downtown Syracuse. Sawyer Falk's first production as head of the Drama Department in 1927 was Mister Pitt, a new play written by Zona Gale. Ms. Gale's Faint Perfume was given its world premiere in Crouse College theatre in 1932. Following this performance, Whitford Kane was invited to direct The Midsummer Night's Dream, under Falk's supervision, as well as perform in the role of Bottom. Love in Livery by Marivaux (originally produced in Paris in 1736) was presented by the Summer School Players in their second successful season in 1932. In his director's note we read of Prof. Falk's commitment to bring to Syracuse and his drama students "at least one performance each year of a guest star of national prominence… to bring to Syracuse the author of one new American play we will give." Playwriting courses taught by Prof. Falk began to take "to the stage." "Young playwrights must live through a certain period of awkwardness before they can express themselves clearly and completely," according to the teacher. Boar's Head began producing these, one of which, Red Harvest, originated in the classroom. A World War I vet became angered by a student's attempt to capture life in the trenches and with Falk's encouragement wrote a play based on his experiences. That play was produced on Broadway in 1937. With much pride for Boar's Head, it played at Syracuse University in their Civic University Theatre in 1938. Whitford Kane returned in 1939 to direct and perform in Excursion, which united the Syracuse Community Theatre and Dramatic Activities of Syracuse University by the end of the 30's. End of Summer by S.N. Behrman provided Prof. Falk a chance to put forth his belief that "the American Theater should not only be an arena of action but also a place for the gracious use of the English language!"

In 1940, Prof. Falk directed Dan Totheroh's new play Live Life Again, billed as "first time on any stage." In 1945, the play had two performances at the Balasco Theatre in New York, featuring SU's own Ken Bowles. Falk used a program note by Harold Clurman, the well-known Broadway director and theatre critic, in his production of Golden Boy in 1947. Mr. Clurman returned to Syracuse on Dr. Reidenbaugh's request in 1964 to lecture for the new Playhouse Summer Series. For Harriet in 1942, drama students were privy to the experience of seeing a play being crafted by the authors through the entire rehearsal period until opening night at the Civic University Theatre. In addition, Eugenia Rawls was the guest artist in the leading role. From Syracuse, Helen Hayes, who attended the Boar's Head production, took the play to Broadway where it received great acclaim for the playwrights and for Miss Hayes' performance.

Dr. Reidenbaugh, 1962  [Archives Image 10-0295] Witches Sabbath by Harry Granick was a new script presented at the Boar's Head Playhouse on Crouse Avenue in 1951. Once again Prof. Falk stressed a university theatre's function of pioneering and inquiry and the function of the audience's individual and collective responses to a new experience. By 1952, six new plays were produced - five from campus writers. The Tempest brought Ernst Bacon, one of America's outstanding composers, to write new music that had never been a part of any previous production. Lysistrata was graced by original music composed by writers from the University of North Carolina and Vassar College. Gigi delighted Syracuse audiences with the original Broadway costumes (Prof. Falk, how did you manage that?) and a setting of pure joy designed by Prof. Falk and John J. Moore.

The 1960s brought Prof. Falk's production of Nook, in which he enlisted "valuable services of the fellow artists on campus… each had contributed an independent work of art." Dr. G.F. Reidenbaugh brought Richard Dyer-Bennet to As You Like It in 1966 to compose a totally fresh in-house score. In that same year, Dr. "R" reached into the community to employ Ken Bowles (Equity actor) as Artist-in-Residence and Dick Sias (Syracuse Ballet Co.) as Guest Dance Artist for his production of Me and Juliet. Also in 1966, Biedermann and the Firebugs by W.D. Snodgrass, Pulitzer Prize poet, was produced. Snodgrass had seen an earlier production, The Firebugs, and decided to do a completely new translation. Shattered Shells by Eugene Goheen, a Shubert Fellow in Playwriting, and Meade by Dean Regenas, a Shubert Fellow, were produced in 1967 and 1968.

The School of Architecture at SU became an integral part of A Midsummer Night's Dream, produced in 1972 at the New Experimental Theatre. Prof. William Chaitkin gave his assistance in the construction of the all-encompassing geodesic dome setting, which provided the background for over 40 actors. Music was composed by Stuart Raleigh, a professor of music at SU, and dances were choreographed by Deborah Boughton, Artistic Director for the Syracuse Ballet Theatre.

After 1964 most of the productions were under the auspices of Syracuse University Drama Department and the University Regent Theatre. The New Experimental Theatre designed by Dr. Reidenbaugh was completed in 1967. King Lear was the premiere offering in May of that year. Boar's Head Dramatic Society, founded in 1904, was disbanded in November of 1970 with the hope that those functions, services, and duties it performed in those many years since its founding could and would be better handled by a new full departmental structure. The 100th anniversary of Boar's Head was celebrated by the 50th reunion classes of 1953-54 when thirteen members returned to perform in the musical showcases of both years: Angelos, Cates, Deichler, Dishy, Fenner, Kaufman, Khanzadian, Leider, O'Kun, Scarpato, Schmidt and Summa.

~Shirley Fenner Reidenbaugh '54

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