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Drama at the University of Hawai´i: The Early Years

Exhibits Page          Complete List of Plays

Introduction (cont.)


there was a larger room available. Most of the presentations, however, were scheduled for theaters off campus at Punahou, downtown or even in other parts of the Island.

Archival holdings help document the early dramas of the College/University of Hawai´i. Photographs from the OURD (Office of University Relations and Development) Collection have a rich documentation of plays filed under "Theatre." The Associated Students of University of Hawai'i created a series of scrapbooks extending back into the years of the College of Hawai'i. The earliest volume of the scrapbook contains some programs, announcements and photographs of early dramas. A third valuable source for drama presentations during the late 1920s is a scrapbook created by Helmut Hoermann which is part of the Hoermann Memorabilia Collection. Beginning in 1916, Associated Students of the College of Hawai´i began publishing the college/university yearbook, Ka Palapala. This resource works especially well in helping to date photographs, programs, and other materials, but can also be helpful in providing documentation where none other exists. Later collections which provide source material on the history of drama at the University of Hawai´i are the Joel Trapido Papers, the Earle Ernst Papers, and surprisingly, the President's Office records (A1987:001, file: Department of Drama and Theatre). When processed and opened, the recent accession of papers of Dr. Terence Knapp should also enhance the resources for the history of drama at UH.

The earliest play presented by students at the College of Hawai´i was The Revolving Wedge, which students presented on 27 and 28 November 1912, in the Charles R. Bishop Hall at Punahou School. According to Ka Palapala, 1920, p. 28, students at College of Hawai´i presented a second play, The Mysterious Dr. Burton, the following year, though the date may be in error. During the 1917/1918 academic year, students presented The Glory of Their Years which had won the MacDowell Fellowship competition for 1916 and was first presented at Harvard in August of that year. The College of Hawai´i performance followed the playwright´s two revisions of the play. In the spring of 1919, students presented The Man on the Box with such success that the cast then organized the Dramatic Club at College of Hawai´i, effective in fall 1919, to help promote plays at CH. The students presented two plays that academic year, Officer 666 in December and Under Cover the following March. Since that last year of College of Hawai´i, with the exception of the war years, 1942-1945, students have presented at least one drama every year.

The early period in CH/UH drama, 1908 through 1929/1930 showed tremendous growth. In addition to the plays, beginning in 1920/21 academic year, the University offered a course in drama, taught during the spring term. Prior to that there was no academic support for the development of drama. The small genesis of this course produced a series of Dramatic Nights in the 1920s in which one-act plays written by students were produced. Some years, the Dramatic Nights consisted of competitions among the freshman, sophomore, junior and senior classes or among dormitories. Also, during this decade, the Dramatic Club began the practice of presenting plays each year from the Chinese and the Japanese traditions as well as a third play from the western world. Most of these years, the Dramatic Club also sponsored a play on a Hawaiian theme. The accompanying exhibit does not include all the images available in the archives on any particular play, nor does it cover every play for which documentation in the Archives exists.

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Limitations did exist. The most significant hindrance to the growth of drama at the University of Hawai´i in these years was the lack of facilities. There were no facilities dedicated to construction, storage and design of properties; there was no auditorium on campus in which the plays could occur until the completion of Farrington Hall, in 1930. Students did use the steps of Hawaii Hall for the play House of Rimmon in November 1925, and one alumna indicated that students presented a Shakespearian comedy on the rear lanai of Hawai´i Hall before the stairs were built connecting the rear lanai with what would become the Varney Circle. Otherwise, dramatic productions had to be staged off campus: Bishop Memorial Hall and Dillingham Hall at Punahou School, Mission Memorial Hall and the Hawai´i Theatre downtown, among other places.

1930 signaled a significant year in the history of drama at the University of Hawai´i. That fall, Professor Arthur E. Wyman became Assistant Professor of Dramatics in the Department of English. That same semester marked the opening of Lecture Hall, later named Farrington Hall, which included facilities for theater work and the large lecture hall with a stage. Professor Wyman organized "Theatre Guild of Hawaii" that same year, combining what had been the student Dramatic Club with interested persons from the community. The 1930s were therefore a significant period in the development of drama at the University. In the mid-1930s, Theatre Guild made another significant alteration in earlier practices. They decided that the cast membership of any play would be open to anyone regardless of ethnic background. Hence, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and haole students could try out and act in anyone of the various dramas, not just in the dramas of their own ethnic groups.

December 1941 changed drama at the University just as it changed everything else in Hawai´i and the nation. When the University reopened in February 1942, many students and faculty were gone. Professor Wyman numbered among the seventy plus faculty members listed in the 1942/1943 catalog as having resigned or being absent in war effort. The import of the war relegated many activities to unimportant status. The first play scheduled for that year had just begun rehearsals when the attack on Pearl Harbor occured; dramatic events planned for the year were cancelled. Eventually, the United States Army Special Service Office, Entertainment Section, began presenting plays, musical reviews, etc., for the troops stationed on O´ahu, using Farrington Hall for headquarters. The final section of this portion of History of Drama at the University of Hawai´i focuses on the work of Capt. Maurice Evans, a Shakespearean actor, stationed at the University by the U.S. Army.

A second installment of the History of Drama at UH will be mounted later.

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Click here to see a list of the plays

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