Monday, December 22, 2008

Interfraternity Play Contest

I am not sure when the Interfraternity Play Contest become a late winter ritual at Dartmouth, or, for that matter, when it ended. I do know that the IPC was going strong as least as early as the late ‘40’s right after WW II.

The Contest worked like this. Each year all fraternities were encouraged to put on a one act play. In the late ‘50’s when I was at Dartmouth, I would say about 10 or 12 fraternities, roughly half of all houses, participated in any given year. The plays presented ranged from original one acts written by one of the fraternity members, short plays written by well known playwrights, or excerpts of traditional length plays presented in abbreviated form. In all, each participating fraternity was allowed up to one half hour to present its production.

It was required that only members of the fraternity could participate in the production. No ringers! And that all the tasks necessary to put on the play had to be performed by those members. The only exception to this rule was that a fraternity could uses actresses as the casting needs of the play dictated. Since Dartmouth was not co-ed in the late ‘50’s, faculty wives, townies and nurses from Mary Hitchcock Hospital would often be involved. (Thank heavens we did not have to wear drag as is the custom at certain other Ivy institutions!) Fraternity members were the actors, directors, stage managers, lighting directors, and set designers for these productions, although in most cases whoever opted to be the play’s director usually wore several other hats. Each participating fraternity would be assigned a faculty advisor from the ‘theater’ department who would hold one or two preliminary rehearsals with the cast. Then we were given time for one ‘dress’ rehearsal, complete with lights, set and props, in the Little Theater, located on the second floor of Robinson Hall.

When I say ‘Little’ Theater, I mean just that; this space was tiny! It sat perhaps 150 people on the world’s most uncomfortable wooden chairs. Actually, there was no formal theater department at Dartmouth in the late ‘50’s even though there was a very active, and I like to think, successful theater program. Each year the Dartmouth Players mounted four or five major productions under the guidance of Warner Bentley, Henry Williams and George Schoenhut. We did some very challenging plays: “Waiting for Godot” was a particular success in Hanover and won huge praise at the annual Yale Drama Festival in 1958. Warner Bentley oversaw the construction of the Hopkins Center, opened in 1962 I believe. The Hop has had a most positive effect on all the arts at Dartmouth.

The IPC ran over the course of three or four nights depending on the number of entrants and we performed in front of an audience. Not many people came as I remember, but there was always an audience of some size. A panel of judges (usually Warner, Henry and George) would then select a ‘winner,’ as well as ‘best actor’ and each participating house got ‘points.’ I am not sure what these points counted towards, but I know we got points for doing lots of activities” such as ‘Hums,’ interfraternity sports, the house’s academic ranking, and so forth.

The Interfraternity Play Contest was great fun. It was always interesting for me to see how much creativity would come forth each year from fraternities where one least expected to find it.

Bob Caulfield
San Francisco
December 22, 2008

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