The origins of theatre at Ursinus date back to the 1930s when a student-run organization called “The Curtain Club” provided students and faculty with a creative outlet. In Bears Make History this semester, Joe Makuc, Katie Hudick, and myself focused on the Curtain Club and how it transformed the college’s theatrical scene throughout the years.
The Curtain Club began in 1925, but did not become an official organization until 1930. The lack of potential members most likely contributed to this since every participant needed prior experience with theatre. Between 1930 and 1968, the Curtain Club grew and had over 100 students involved. Even President Helfferich and his wife contributed to its success. He directed and sponsored productions, while Mrs. Helfferich made costumes and built sets. They encouraged student membership in theatre and the arts, and the Curtain Club served as the main creative outlet for such activities and continued to do so after it changed its name to ProTheatre.
In 1968, ProTheatre was formed with a goal to produce “experimental theatre” as a reaction to the numerous social changes happening in the United States, including the civil rights and feminist movements. During this time, the Ursinus community and our theatrical performances became more diverse. ProTheatre was used as a creative outlet during Ursinus’ transition into being “pro-change.”
The impact of the Curtain Club persists to this day. Joe Makuc explains, “Our research shows that in the turbulent 60s, Ursinus students reorganized social justice on campus and used their art for activism. We face many of the same issues today that students fought in the 60s—war, racial inequality, economic problems—so we would do well to think of ways we could similarly organize our art for activism.”
The theatre department and Breakaway Student Productions continue to welcome diversity and student participation in the arts at Ursinus. With Breakaway, students run their own performances and often produce student-written work. In addition to Breakaway Productions, students have also taken the initiative to write their own works for the mainstage. Coming up in the spring semester, senior Angela Bey’s “The Medusa Play” will premiere as a main stage production. “The Medusa Play” highlights the power theatre possesses to make voices heard.
From the Curtain Club, to ProTheatre, to Breakaway, Ursinus’ theatre productions provide diverse, dynamic reactions to issues in today’s world, in addition to giving audiences performances that transport them into another universe.
Please come out and support us at The Bears Make History project launch on December 4th in the Bears’ Den between 10:30 am and 12:00 pm, or go see “The Medusa Play” in April.