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Life on the Quads
A Centennial View of
the Student Experience at the
University of Chicago
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Musical Clubs' Show program, March 5, 1902 and  Glee and Mandolin Club program, Season of 4inety-seven and Ninety-eight

Musical Clubs' Show program, March 5, 1902. The ninth annual Musical Clubs' Show gave students a sample of the music being performed on campus by the Glee Club, Mandolin Club, and Banjo Quintette. Samuel N. Harper (AB 1902), son of President Harper, was assistant manager of the combined clubs.

Glee and Mandolin Club program, Season of Ninety-seven and Ninety-eight (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1898).


A Myth in Mandel, Blackfriars program, 1917.

A Myth in Mandel, Blackfriars program, 1917. Set in Chicago during the classical age, the score of the fourteenth annual Blackfriars show presented an anachronistic melange of tunes including "My Athenian Maid," "When Helen of Troy Was a Girl," and "Research," sung by Professor Appleby and the Grinds.

The Performing Arts

The tradition of student theater on campus was launched with satiric laughter. Among the earliest student dramatic productions were a Washington's Birthday Souvenir mocking the founding of the University and The New Cosmology portraying prominent faculty members in the guise of Greek gods.

Musical comedy made its debut in 1899 with The Deceitful Dean, an entertainment featuring such familiar campus characters as Registrar A. Bludsucker, Examiner Lawrence Lowmarker, and Tabitha Teachem, the dour head of Mary Jane House. The east of The Academic Alchemist (1900) followed with a still more elaborate comic production focused on United States President William McKingly, University President William Brainy Driver, Secretary to the President H. E. Runsitall, and Uriah Wiley, the mysterious Head Professor of Alchemy.

Some of the most popular shows were the original musical comedies presented by the Blackfriars, an all-male troupe founded in 1903. Inspired by collegiate groups such as Harvard's Hasty Pudding and Pennsylvania's Mask and Wig, the Blackfriars membership included one man from each fraternity and any actors "fitted for amusing themselves and others." Their early productions established the Blackfriars as masters of campus burlesque, with men playing all the roles. The exotic Eastern setting of The Rushing of Boxes (1906) recalled the University's Egyptian Expedition undertaken by Professor James Henry Breasted. Sure Enough Segregation (1907) provided a mordant commentary on the brief experiment with classroom separation of men and women in the Junior College.

Blackfriars shows became increasingly sophisticated after 1910, and in the 1920s directing, costuming, and staging were placed entirely in the hands of professionals. The tradition of handsome males and more handsome females was sustained through productions including Wallie, Watch Out! (1926), an exuberant skewering of flappers, fraternities, and the Florida land boom; Mr. Cinderella (1929), which introduced the infectious Midway Shuffle; Captain Kidd, Jr. (1931), starring lithe Joseph Salek (PhB 1932) as Zee Zee; topical shows such as In Brains We Trust (1935) and Fascist and Furious (1936); and the torrid Mexican romance of Love Over the Line (1939).

The Blackfriars tradition, neglected during World War II, sprang back to life in 1957 with a production of Gamma Delta Iota. Alternating between presentations of original comedies, Broadway musicals, and revivals of earlier Blackfriars hits, the revived company has produced such shows as The Boys from Syracuse<.i> (1967), What U. C. Is What You Get (1973), and Publish or Perish (1976).

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