"We hear that the really talented people at Harvard spend their time at public activities, such as drama (which is extremely popular at Harvard). So don't worry too much about clubs." --Yale Daily News Insiders' Guide to the Colleges>
Theatre is one of the most exciting, frustrating, and amorphous institutions at Harvard. And that description of it has been apt for an awfully long time.
When drama at Harvard is mentioned, the gargantuan Loeb Drama Center and the Loeb Experimental Theatre immediately come to mind. Both are intended primarily for student use. And any Harvard-Radcliffe chartered organization may utilize Agassiz Theatre (in Radcliffe Yard). But it is theatre in the Houses which has long been the important source of student exposure to drama and is more integrated into the college community than the other theatres.
House drama sprang up because there was no other organized theatre at Harvard. Sanders Theatre and Agassiz were built before the turn of the century, but-they were used for any play which needed a stage--they did not generate any theatrical activity of their own.
George Pierce Baker '88, conductor of the famous 47 Workshop (of which Eugene O'Neill and Thomas Wolfe are alumni), fought in the teens and twenties to increase Harvard's concern and expenditure for drama. Baker wanted to expand his workshop in play writing and dramatic technique into a comprehensive drama school: Harvard would not have him, so he went to Yale where he inaugurated what is now considered the finest drama school in the country.
Drama at Harvard wandered rather aimlessly after Baker left, and by the fifties the Houses were centers for the production of a great many skits musical reviews and Christmas plays. Vestiges of these remain, but the scatological depths were really plumbed in those days before girls had invaded the all-male sancta.
Finally, a drama center was made possible for Harvard by a huge gift from John Langeloth Loeb '24. The Loeb Drama Center opened in 1960 as the most elaborate theatre on any campus in the United States. With the Loeb came a burst of interest in theatre. The sixties saw extravagant productions in the Houses: Agassiz also began to be used more heavily as a less intimidating alternative to the Loeb.
But artistic trends change, and so does political consciousness. By the end of the sixties, the social sciences instead of the humanities were the largest area of concentration. Much more energy began to be poured into politics and discussion of social change. Free theatre, "living theatre", theatre as a group experience flourished over more conventional forms of drama at Harvard during the strike years.
Now interest seems to be swinging back to humanism: 100 more people are majoring in English this year than last; the legions of Social Relations concentrators are diminishing. People suddenly swarm to De Broca's King of Hearts--a movie of social comment, to be sure, but artful and delightfully done. (When King of Hearts first came out in 1967, it was dismissed as fluff.)
The heritage of the late sixties is not being forgotten, however. And House dramatic productions especially are a bit more politicized now, a bit more informal.
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Drama in the Houses more often emanates from a loose meeting of minds than from systematic planning--an individual interested in doing a specific play must usually take the initiative of getting it under way. The most important tasks of the drama societies are ordinarily those of approving ideas for plays and then scrounging up the money. Raising money takes ingenuity, and while some House drama societies are self-supporting, others find funds in ways which range from selling coffee to the more secure practice of tapping the House Discretionary Fund.
Excitement about the theatre is often all that the people involved in House drama have in common. Their attitudes reflect anything from dilettantism to professionalism. Many are members of the House, almost as many are not: two B.U. girls were once made honorary members of Dunster House after several years of faithful work on costumes and staging.
Some people come with acting, directing or technical experience, but House drama is as important for the opportunities it provides many students for taking a first plunge into the theatre as it is for the chance to flex already developing dramatic muscle.
Lack of facilities is a very basic problem for drama in the Houses. The headaches of putting on a play in improvised surroundings add up quickly: Dunster House must pay Buildings and Grounds $175 to take down a chandelier each time they use the dining room for a production: Currier House's theatre also happens to be a thoroughfare to the dining room and rerouting traffic presents major difficulty.