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Theater History

Theater History

Theatre and the performing arts at Antioch College boast a 140-year history dating back to the 1870s, when Antioch was cited by James Kendall Hosmer as “the first college in America to affirm the positive educational value of dramatics.” The Theater Program in the twentieth century produced many noted actors, artists and performers during an era when Antioch Shakespeare Under the Stars had earned a regional and national presence.

The Building

The Antioch College Foundry building began as a cooperative business for the college in 1926 when College President Arthur Morgan was leading an initiative to create student-led businesses on campus.  Led by Morris (‘30) and Xarifa Sallume (‘31) Bean, the original Foundry was a barn located near where Birch Hall stands today. The building hosted art classes with Amos Mazzolini and also became an institution dedicated to researching lost wax bronze casting and plaster mold aluminum casting.

The program had outgrown the barn despite many modifications so plans were made and funds raised to build the current facility at 920 Corry Street.  The Foundry Building cost $25,000, $15,000 of which was raised by local businessmen, and was built in 120 days during the winter of 1941.  The College purchased the completed building and leased it to General Motors for 5 years, spanning much of World War II. The Foundry was instrumental in the development of Allison airplane engines and the training of personnel to make these parts in General Motor’s factories.

On April 1, 1946 the Antioch Foundry became  Morris Bean & Co.  The business continued to operate on Corry Street until September of 1950 when it moved to its present location on Hyde Road.

Before the departure of Morris Bean & Co., Antioch College had plans to give the building to the engineering department.  Then in 1949 the Yellow Springs Opera House, the home of the Antioch Area Theatre for the last 18 years, was condemned, leaving the program without a home.  The decision was made to erect a new building for engineering and give the Foundry to the Area Theatre.  An architect was engaged along with the Area Theater’s staff to create a concept for a totally flexible theater space within the Foundry.  In 1952 a fundraising campaign and brochure outlining the project were released in hopes of funding the $295,000 needed to make the project a reality. Many of the desired renovations were made to establish the two theaters, most notably the flexible seating risers and the creation of shop spaces for costume and scenery construction.

In the context of contemporary American theater history, the 1952 vision for the space was cutting edge.  Theatre artists were only beginning to see the potential of found or converted spaces.   Present day well known regional theaters such as the Arena Stage (Washington DC) founded in 1950, Yale Repertory Theatre founded in 1966 or the Long Wharf Theatre (New Haven, CT) founded in 1965 were still largely considered to be experiments.  The League of Regional Theaters (L.O.R.T.) would not be established until 1966.

The Performance Program

Prior to becoming an established area of major at the college, the performance program began as an offshoot of the English department somewhere in the years between 1858 and 1861 making it possibly the oldest college to positively affirm the value of dramatic performance in education.

The “Antioch Players” officially became a sponsored program of the college in 1934 with the hire of Paul Treichler, a graduate of the Yale School of Drama.  He was to teach literature and direct 6 plays a year. This arrangement also came with financial support from the college, who would give the department an annual advance on ticket sales to produce their shows.  In the July 1939 issue of Theatre Arts Monthly, The Antioch Players under the direction of Paul F. Treichler are listed as one of seven “National Little Theaters” in Ohio.

The theatre program was led by the “Triumvirate” Paul Treichler, Meredith Dallas and Arthur Lithgow (’38), and had a dedicated cast of professionals, staff and students. Treichler, Dallas, and Lithgow developed a dynamic program that aspired to make high quality theater accessible to the community and as “ common as the sidewalks” as Paul Treichler wrote. They produced a wide range of contemporary, classical, and original works that engaged students, faculty, and community alike. The “Antioch Players” grew to become renamed the “Yellow Springs Area Theatre” in 1945 to reflect the increased contribution of the community.  In 1955 they moved into their “temporary” home, the newly renovated former foundry, the Antioch Area Theatre.

The program drew interest through many programs including Music Under the Stars, but its most celebrated feat was undoubtedly the Antioch Shakespeare Festival also known as Shakespeare Under the Stars between 1952 to 58.  Under the direction of Arthur Lithgow (‘38) and Meredith Dallas, the company undertook the incredible task of producing all 38 of Shakespeare’s plays in repertory!  The production took notice from national critics and people flocked to Yellow Springs for the annual event.

During the 1950’s, the Antioch area theatre produced a bumper crop of outstanding and energetic actors, directors, writers, and designers who have since earned enviable reputations for themselves on Broadway, in Hollywood, and in distinguished regional theatres across the United States. Rod Serling, writer and producer of television’s Twilight Zone, Herb Gardner, author of the Broadway play and motion picture A Thousand Clowns, and Richard Kaplan, director of the Academy Award-winning movie The Eleanor Roosevelt Story, are only a few of the Antioch alumni to emerge from this period of theatrical activity at Antioch College.

The Antioch Area Theatre continued to grow, and with the completion of the Antioch College Amphitheater in 1961 the size of the audience grew rapidly, creating the need for longer seasons and larger facilities. This growth was short lived as the college began to struggle financially.  The decline of the theater department was marked by the retirement of several key personnel who were not replaced and ever decreasing operating budgets.

In the 1970’s and ‘80’s , the theater program shifted in nature as the college was challenged to support it financially. Under the direction of Downing Cless for several years, the department developed a core commitment to political theater and activism.  The program was forced to close in 1984 when the annual budget hit an all time low of $1000 (compared to $149,000 in 1965).

After several years of being dark, the theater was reopened in 1991 after a series of student protests with the arrival of Denny Partridge and Amy Trompetter, who continued this activist tradition. Students from the theater major toured Japan and Nicaragua.

As the millennium turned, the Antioch Area Theater was under the leadership of alumna Louise Smith ’77. The theatre became  home to renowned artists in residence and visiting artists. In 1996, the Ford Foundation granted $52,000 to Antioch for a Campus Diversity Cultural Resource Initiative.  An artist in residency program was established, bringing 32 performances in two years by nationally known performers such as Ping Chong, Carlyle Brown, Roger Guenveur Smith, Beto Araiza, Pregones Theater, San Francisco Mime Troupe, Fireband Theory Theater, Ralph Lee, Coco Fusco, Peyuco Villagra, and Sheila Ramsey.  The amphitheater was restored and rededicated in 1998 (renamed for the composer and Antiochian Miles “Budd” Goodman).  The community plays of the 50’s and 60’s were revived with summer productions of Shakespeare, original works, and classics.

In 1995 the theater became the home to the Yellow Springs Kids Playhouse under the direction of  Antioch Professor John Fleming. YS Kids Playhouse remains a separate nationally funded youth theater that recently marked 20 years in existence and gives thousands of children a unique experience in performing in original musicals about timely topics.  Performances still take place every summer in the amphitheater.

Antioch is now reestablishing itself for the 21st century with a renewed commitment that positions the arts as a key component of experiential learning within the liberal arts experience. As envisioned by the College, a thriving arts program is essential to each Antiochian education. The Theater major was redefined as a major in Performance, with two current faculty members, Dr. Gabrielle Civil and Louise Smith. Performance Art theory and practice, collaborative theater and social practice are the pedagogical foundations of the current program.

The program moved into the newly renovated Foundry Theater in the Summer of 2014 after its closure in 2008 with the rest of the college.  The building received an initial renovation of 1.2 million dollars and will receive additional updates and renovations in the years to come.

-Adapted and expanded from Antioch Theater History by J. David Coldren, Class of 1965, and by Louise Smith Class of 1977, and by Amanda Egloff