Dramashop turns 80, two years after celebrating its 50th season. (But who’s counting?)
When more than 80 Dramashop alumni returned to MIT in 2005 to celebrate what they thought was the club’s 50th anniversary, they were in for a surprise. Some of the club’s members brought evidence that a recalculation was in order: anecdotes and memorabilia going back much earlier than 1955.
A bit of sleuthing revealed that Dramashop presented its first performance in 1927, starting with the lines “Gif me a trink dere, you! ‘Ave a wet! Salute! Gesundheit! Skoal! Drunk as a lord, God stiffen you!” from Eugene O’Neill’s play The Hairy Ape. Dramashop was, in fact, eligible to celebrate its 80th anniversary in December 2007.
As current club members dug into their history, they reconnected with one of Dramashop’s oldest surviving members. A credit on a single page of the program from a 1930s production of Pride and Prejudice led MIT Theater Arts staff and Dramashop students to Louis Rosenblum ‘42, who had played Mr. Bennet. Rosenblum, who has a treasure trove of Dramashop history tucked away in his basement, fondly recalls his time with the club, when he worked under the guidance of Professor Dean M. Fuller.
Fuller, whom Rosenblum remembers as a “polished gentleman bachelor” who let students call him “Dean,” helped Rosenblum and others produce several plays a year, including one or two large productions and several smaller shows. For theater space, the club used campus lecture halls 10-250 and 2‑190; sometimes it also borrowed space from other schools, including Lasell Junior College in Newton. Dramashop has always been a relatively small group, but in Rosenblum’s time, the club managed a major production of Cyrano de Bergerac, featuring a cast of 57. For scenery, members built a complete 16th-century theater replica on the stage at Brattle Hall, where the play was performed.
Rosenblum remembers that Joseph “Zepp” Dietzgen ‘41 turned in a sensational performance as Ragueneau, the humorous baker and poet. Janet (Norris) Starcke ‘42 played Roxane, the female lead, in one of the many Dramashop roles he recalls her performing.
In his time, Rosenblum says, Dramashop had particular difficulty finding enough women to play available roles. “In my year, there were somewhere between five and eight coeds in a class of 700, and the ones who had a flair for acting had all the activity they could do,” he says.
An article published at the time shows things in a slightly different light. According to a pictorial published by the Tech, “Dramashop has always been a popular activity with co-eds since it is one of the few in the Institute which allows them to compete on an equal footing with the male students.” The presence of women seems to have been quite a novelty. The article goes on to say, “In one way, at least, the presence of a relatively large group of girls has proved to be an inconvenience since it invariably attracts a certain number of fellows who are interested in them, rather than in dramatic experience.” Indeed, Rosenblum admits to having tried, unsuccessfully, to date the woman who played Elizabeth Bennet, the play’s protagonist.
Rosenblum says that his role as Mr. Bennet, ironically, led him away from acting. “I worked awfully hard memorizing the part,” he says, “and that’s probably what convinced me not to take a major part in a show again.” He moved on to doing publicity for Dramashop’s smaller shows, designing posters and taking photographs for the Tech.
Though most of Rosenblum’s Dramashop memories are happy, some are shadowed by World War II. “In spring of junior year, in retrospect, war clouds were gathering very seriously,” he says. “But Pearl Harbor was a complete surprise.” Rosenblum recalls taking photos at a Dramashop performance of Ferenc Molnár’s The Guardsman on December 6, 1941, only to forget to label them in the confusion that followed the attack on Pearl Harbor the next day. He rediscovered the photos many years later.
Rosenblum did not, in the end, forget his responsibilities to the club. At his 50th reunion, in 1992, he brought enlargements of the forgotten photographs to present to habitual leading lady Norris, who had played an actress in the Molnár play.