April 08, 2022
Did You Know? The History of Theatrical Productions
The doldrums of winter hit hard every February, but here at KO, the anticipation of the winter musical always lifts our spirits. This February was no exception with the production of 9 to 5 (Theater Director, Choreographer-Kyle Reynolds, Musical Director-Steve Mitchell, Technical Director-Michael Bane).
At Oxford School in the 1920s, the Shakespeare Club was organized and eventually evolved into the dramatic club, Paint & Putty. Drama coaches assisted the girls with the production of plays and traditional Christmas plays, which set the stage for a wonderful future of plays and musicals at Oxford, Kingswood, and to this day, at KO.
Plays at Oxford were first performed in the gym at the school on Prospect Avenue. In the mid-1930s, plays took place at the Avery Memorial Theater in the Wadsworth Atheneum and eventually, were performed in Guernsey Hall. Membership in Paint & Putty was originally by invitation only and the girls were required to work many hours and have a special academic average. Male roles were filled by the girls and productions were quite impressive with elaborate scenery, props, and costumes.
In the early 1930s, Oxford School’s very own Katharine Hepburn, performed in NYC in The Warriors Husband, which was one of her first big parts. The Oxford community was so very excited that posters of her were placed all around the campus.
At Kingswood back in March of 1927, a new group, called the Kingswood Dramatic Club, presented R.B. Sheridan’s play, The Rivals. Skits and one-act plays had been presented as in-class activities but The Rivals was the first full production. The play was performed in a corner of the dining hall and rehearsals were held in the cellar, locker rooms and whatever space was available. Mr. Nicholson even took it upon himself to do some directing. In the next few years, the drama club performed plays on the stage of Seaverns Hall. Seaverns proved to be too small for the ever-growing productions so Kingwood plays were performed at the Avery Theater as well. A comedy by George Kelly, The Torch Bearers (1948) proved to be a great success at that venue, in part, due to the excellent facilities at the Avery. In 1949 the Kingswood Dramatic Club performed a modern version of Julius Caesar, experimenting with theater in the round with modern dress and no swords or daggers. It was a huge success. The construction of the Merritt A. Hewett building in the 1960s allowed for a large auditorium with a stage, dressing rooms, and space for scenery storage. Performances were then happily held on campus.
There were joint ventures between Oxford and Kingswood thespians. Mr. William McCurdy of the Mark Twain Masquers assisted in various successful productions. In the summer of 1952 and for several more summers, Oxford and Kingswood got together to direct their own summer theater productions.
In 1972, the two schools’ drama and music departments merged to stage the first musical, You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown. The set, costumes, lighting, and choreography were completely designed by students and needless to say, the musical was a huge success.
Since then, the school has enjoyed many wonderful plays, one-acts, and musicals such as the ones shown on these programs.
(Information from Kingswood Fifty Years 1916-1966, May We Remember Oxford)
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