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With a rumble of luggage and a rattle of loose mud-guards, the Jitney Players, a peripatetic troupe composed largely of Harvard and Yale men, have descended upon New England. Bearing the masks of drama, echoing the gallantries of Provence, the college performers have invaded and captured the summer colonies of the East.
Already famous after four seasons upon the broad highway, the organization conceived by Bushnell Cheney, Yale '21, and R. S. Andrich '25, a former president of the Harvard Dramatic Club, has won a permanent place in the theatrical world. Eight principals of the troupe have been Harvard men. Sixteen players in all tour with the Jitney company; seven of them are professional actresses.
Travel In Fords
The peregrinations of the theatrical tourists are accomplished by means of three Ford cars and two nondescript run-abouts. Generally these conveyances are in an advanced state of disrepair.
H. W. Bragdon '28, an undergraduate member of the organization, related some of the tribulations of the last season to a CRIMSON representative.
"We opened the season at Noroton, Connecticut, on June 22 with Jezebel' and 'Desdemona', two special Ford trucks 'Vivian', a Ford touring car, 'Nemo', a Dodge of questionable antecedents, and Mr. Cheney's Renault runabout, 'Pippett', as our means of transportation. We were kept busy attending to these cars throughout our 11 weeks' hour.
"'Jezebel', especially, as her name suggests, was constantly outting up; one could depend on her to furnish some excitement every day. 'Desdemona', on the other hand, had only one weakness--she had to be choked thoroughly before starting.
"The two phrases that will always remind me of last summer's tour are 'mediaeval troubadours' and 'chicken salad'. At every village we visited, we were hailed by the local literati as 'mediaeval troubadours'. Every country newspaper mentioned us as the 'troubadours returned' or a 'refreshing voice from the past'. Our mediaeval origin was dinned into us from Maine to New York.
As for 'chicken salad', I am certain that no actress of the company will ever offend etiquette by ordering it a second time. Almost without exception, every entertainment we were invited to during the summer, supplied chicken salad among the refreshments. One becomes somewhat of a connoisseur of this dish after consuming it for several months. A little too much seasoning in it after a certain time sufficed to make the whole company irascible.
Travel 3000 Miles
"We covered about 3000 miles during the tour and ended up with a lot of enthusiasm at Babylon, Long Island, September 11. When things were going rather discouragingly in the middle of the summer on account of the weather, J. L. Shuke, formerly of "47" Workshop, composed a ballad which we all added to and modified during the tour. It was sung during our wanderings on the highway and was really quite inspiring. Set to the tune of Columbia, Gem of the Ocean', it goes as follows:
The Jitney Anthem
"The Jitneys all set forth together,
Like medtaeval troubadours:
In fair or in stormiest weather.
We dole on the great out-of-doors.
With a definite flair for the fantastic,
And the gypsy blood coursing through our veins,
We render the drama more elastic,
By technique augmented with brains
Chorus: By technique augmented with brains!
Pass the buck (Repeat)
Then boost the fair jitneys forever,
The serious thinkers' pride and joy!
We proud free spirits never, never,
Will consent to be Jake Shubert's servile toy.
Over cliffs and rocky mountain passes,
We drive with the greatest unconcern.
Though appearing but care-free lads and lasses,
Our souls are imbued with virtue stern!
Chorus, Are imbued with virtue stern,
Pass the buck! (Repeat)'.
"This anthem is written in the style of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas and sounds very similar to one of their songs.
'Jezebel' Is Wrecked
"The only serious accident of the tour occurred on the Storm King Highway near West Point, New York. I was driving 'Jezebel', the supply truck, down a very steep hill. With me were J. L. Shute and Edgar Barrier, a Columbia graduate. The roadway was wet and I applied all the brakes we had to slow us up a bit. Naturally, 'Jezebel's' brakes burned out and we dashed down at terrific speed. At the bottom, we hit another car, demolishing it, and then flattened five concrete posts before, turning over in a ditch. Shute and I went out through the roof at the first collision, but Barrier was pinned down and had his arm broken.
Nowithstanding the injury, Barrier played his part successfully at the evening's performance in Woodstock, New York, without anyone suspecting that his arm was in splints.
Yard Performance a Success
"Our largest audience of the season was in Harvard Yard August 9. The Summer school students rallied for the performance in crowds. Our poorest audience numbered seven people and convened in spite of a slight drizzle and fog in Saco, Maine. Needless to say, we postponed the performance--the only one that was called off during the summer.
"Our repertoire consisted of one three-act play, 'The Dragon' by Lady Gregory, and three one-act plays, 'Love is the Best Doctor' by Moliere, 'Paolo and Francesca' by Stephen Phillips, and 'The Gentleman in Black' by W. S. Gilbert. We gave these performances on successive nights.
"The company, despite newspaper sentiment to the contrary, is purely professional. It supplies the dramatic needs of a large section of New England that is not generally visited by theatrical companies. The work is very interesting and full of enjoyable, though unexpected incidents."
Mr. R. H. L. Skinner '22, a member of the late Jitney Players, stated in regard to the troupe:
"The renaissance of the travelling theatre is due to the invention of the automobile. Once that invention was an assured fact, the time was bound to come when groups of actors would take to the road again, offering theatrical wares un- der desirable conditions of time and place. However, Bushnell Cheney was the first to have the foresight, the initiative, and the mechanical gifts to design the truck with its equipment, and to organize the actors and put them on the road."
The Jitney Players were first organized in 1923, and since then have toured regularly from Connecticut to Maine and back to New York playing wherever an audience had been located by R. C. Burrell '24, their advance agent. They use a collapsible stage, designed by Mr. Cheney, the owner of the company. This stage is fitted on a specially constructed Ford chassis, and can be unfolded quickly at each stopping place. A very elaborate lighting plant is built on another truck.
The Harvard men who have been connected with the organization are: R. S. Aldrich '25, H. W. Bragdon '28, H. C. Burrell '26, R. C. Burrell '24, J. J. Collier '24, William Force '26, D. W. Hallett '24, R. H. L. Skinner '22, Joaquim Souther '12, Ross Wilkins Jr '26, and A. R. Weed '25
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