The year 1908 gave birth to some notable characters: Bette Davis, Thurgood Marshall, and Lyndon B. Johnson, to name a few. This weekend, Harvard celebrates the 100th birthday of a notable character on its own campus, the Harvard Radcliffe Dramatic Club. To commemorate HRDC’s long history as well as its evolving role on Harvard’s campus, a number of shows and activities will be open to the public this weekend during their Centennial Celebration.
“HRDC’s personality changes a lot from semester to semester, year to year. Without a theater department or faculty administrator, [HRDC and other theater organizations on campus] can run theater and shape theater based on student desires,” says HRDC president Allison B. Kline ’09. Originally known as the Harvard Dramatic Club, HRDC was founded in 1908 with a mission to create a permanent standing theater community at Harvard. It distinguished itself from other universities’ dramatic clubs through its commitment to both student actors and student playwrights. Its first production, entitled “The Promised Land,” was written by A. Davis, class of 1907, and encouraged the vision of “an all Harvard production.” The hard work of years past has endured, and HRDC has expanded and thrived on Harvard’s campus since its conception.
The organization has undergone major changes in the past 100 years, moving from a small group of about 80 men to an umbrella organization that supports all theater companies at the university. While the Harvard Dramatic Club’s original purpose was to produce student-written works, Megan E. O’Keefe ’11, Community and Alumni Relations Coordinator for HRDC, says that today, she sees HRDC “coming full circle and embracing all aspects of production.” This includes bringing both students and theater professionals to work on HRDC productions. The combination of amateur and professional theater brings together a fresh, creative view and expert experience with impressive results.
The board is excited to show off the hard work and dedication of HRDC at the Centennial Celebration. “I think it’s a great reason for people, who haven’t already, to come see student theater” O’Keefe says. Those who come and celebrate with HRDC this weekend will have an opportunity to see the unique structure of this student-run program.
ALIVE AND WELL
The centerpiece of this weekend’s Centennial Celebration is HRDC’s 2008 Visiting Director Project, “The Hyacinth Macaw: A Lullaby for the 20th Century.” Underneath the linguistic complexity of “The Hyacinth Macaw”—which opens today at the Loeb—is a rather simple account of an American family and the changes ordinary people in unusual situations are put through. Kline, who produced “The Hyacinth Macaw,” believes the show’s challenging script has encouraged the actors and producers to push their abilities and expand their concept of theater. HRDC also had the rare opportunity to work with the director of the original production in New York City, Marcus Stern, now an associate director at the American Repertory Theatre (A.R.T.).
Kline said she thinks that “The Hyacinth Macaw” was an apt choice for the Centennial Celebration because it highlights the progress HRDC has made and its commitment to pushing the boundaries of student theater. “It’s exciting to be working with something that is new and different,” Kline says, “not just in student theater, but professional theater as well.”
Also on stage this weekend are two other Harvard productions: “Songs for a New World,” opening today at the Loeb Experimental Theatre, and “Mnemonic,” opening today at the New College Theatre. “Songs for a New World,” written by the exciting contemporary musical writer Jason Robert Brown, is composed of a series of short scenes with a combination of musical styles. “Mnemonic” melds together two plotlines to explore the concepts of memory and origin. Both shows are directed and performed by Harvard undergraduates, offering interesting companions to the “Hyacinth Macaw,” and unique demonstrations of the combination of professional and amateur theatre that HRDC embraces.
Along with these live performances, HRDC is hosting nine other events covering all aspects of theater production, from songwriting with the composers and lyricists of “Legally Blonde: the Musical” to a workshop on Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre with Rodney Cottier, head of the drama school at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.
Most notably, there will be a panel discussion on “New Directions in Contemporary Theater” with Diane M. Paulus ’88, director of the A.R.T, and Mac Wellman, playwright of “The Hyacinth Macaw.” The panel, which will be held in the Loeb Drama Center at 4 p.m. on Saturday, will discuss how the boundaries of the style and form of theater are being pushed today.
“I think the idea was to talk about what are the new models for theater, the new forms for theater, the new way we think about theatre. For me that has a lot to do with audience,” Paulus says. “I think that, speaking on the panel as a director, I’ll be contributing ideas from that point of view, and Mac will be coming at it from a playwright’s point of view.”
Not only is this weekend a celebration of past and present accomplishments, it’s also a look forward to what HRDC will become in the future. “I’m always afraid that the only people coming to see my plays are my theater friends,” HRDC vice president Olivia A. Benowitz ’09 says, “but it is surprising that people do come out, people who are not involved in theater.” She hopes that, in the future, HRDC draws in even more of the student body and that “theater becomes a more integral part of the Harvard community.”
The Centennial Celebration is a great opportunity for Harvard students to connect with HRDC, see some shows, and take part in the theater community. “Ideally, in the future,” Kline says, “it would be great to think that theater here could be a space for people with different backgrounds to come together and experience something, create something.”