C-11.1 Theater Arts/Marquette University Players, ca. 1950-ongoing

Abstract:  This record group documents performing arts on campus from ca. 1950 to the present day. The majority of the records relate to the Marquette University Players. Records relating to performing arts on campus before 1950 are arranged under Student Organizations (see UNIV A-8.3, series 12). Department of Performing Arts records are arranged separately (see UNIV C-19.6).

Historical Note:   From the establishment of Marquette College in 1881, performing arts was largely the result of various student clubs supported by the administration. Early drama groups included the Harlequins (established in 1920), the University Theatre Club, and the Shakespeare Club (both established in 1923). These groups were supported by the Department of Speech and the Department of Dramatic Art, which were merged and reorganized as the School of Speech in 1926 (see UNIV C-11).

The Marquette University Players formed in 1925 from a combination of the Shakespeare Club and the University Theatre Club. The group's first theater, nicknamed the "Crow's Nest," was a tiny space in the attic of Johnston Hall capable of seating eighty people. In 1926, Ruth Klein joined the faculty of the newly formed School of Speech and assumed responsibility for directing the Players. She served as Players director until 1946. Joseph W. Miller succeeded Klein as director from 1946 to 1950. By this time, the reputation of the Players was spreading, and performances were held in the Medical School auditorium to accommodate audiences.

Rev. John J. Walsh, S.J., deserves credit for transforming the Players from an extracurricular pastime into a major, professional program that won national recognition. Walsh, the first priest to earn a doctorate in theater from Yale University, arrived at Marquette in 1951. Under his directorship, the Players moved into a new theater in Bellarmine Hall which they christened "Teatro Maria." Walsh imposed a standard of excellence in training and productions that put the Players on the national map. In 1961, Walsh and his Players were involved in eight weeks of national network exposure—unprecedented for a university theater program—culminating in the four-part presentation of Ludus Coventriae (the Coventry mystery plays) on CBS' Look Up and Live.

Impressed by Canada's Stratford and Britain's Chicester theaters, Walsh built in 1963 an outdoor theater in the courtyard behind the Grandmora. On this three-tier theater, productions ran in repertory during the summers. Christened "The Paul Claudel Theatre" in honor of the Catholic French playwright, Walsh and later theater directors used this outdoor stage into the early 1970s.

Dozens of Walsh's students became noted actors, directors, dancers, and performing arts teachers. Peter Bonerz, Stewart Moss, and Charles Siebert established dual careers in acting and directing. John Neumeier, artistic director of the Hamburg Ballet, was acknowledged as one of the world's leading choreographers. Fred Barzyk was an established pioneer in video art. Along with those who achieved national reputations—including directors Richard Colla and Michael Schultz, and Tony-nominated actress Helen Carey—many of Walsh's students became forces behind-the-scenes in theater and training programs nationwide.

Walsh also involved the greater Milwaukee community in his sixty productions, tapping the talents of leading performers and visual artists, finding patrons and participants from throughout the region, and training hundreds of children in dance and theater. Walsh's partnership with Milwaukee freelance portrait and architectural photographer Walter S. Sheffer resulted in stunning production photos that were used for promotional purposes and often appeared in Milwaukee newspapers.

Directors of the Marquette University Players:

Stephen Hudson-Mairet, 2008-ongoing
Phylis Ravel, 1997-2008
Kenneth Kloth, 1994-1997
William Grange, 1987-1994
James M. Thomas, 1984-1987
Robert Klassen, 1977-1984
Michael J. Price, 1975-1977
Leo M. Jones, 1965-1975
Rev. John J. Walsh, S.J., 1951-1965
Joseph W. Miller, 1946-1950
Ruth Klein, 1926-1946

Separation Note: Films and videotapes produced by or relating to theater arts and the Players were separated from this record group and arranged in the University Archives' general film and videotape collection (see UNIV A-4.5, series 18).

Restrictions: Access to these records is unrestricted. However, the researcher assumes full responsibility for conforming with the laws of libel, privacy, and copyright which may be involved in the use of these records. Consult an archivist for further information.

Series 1 General Information and Scrapbooks, 1950-ongoing.
This series consists of general information relating to performances. Records are arranged chronologically and then by performance.
Program from the May 1955 performance of Annie Get Your Gun.
Series 2 Scripts and Production Books, 1956-ongoing.
Records are arranged chronologically and then by performance.
Series 3 Photographs, 1952-ongoing.
This series is arranged by individuals' surnames (filed alphabetically) and performances (filed chronologically). More than 100 of these photographs were taken by Walter S. Sheffer, Milwaukee photographer, and date from 1955-1968. Most of Sheffer's early negatives were destroyed in a fire at his studio in the 1960s, making the collection of photographs held by Marquette University unique.
Series 4 Stage Plans, 1974-ongoing.
These records are arranged chronologically and then by performance.
Series 5 Sound Recordings, n.d.