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Life on the Quads
A Centennial View of
the Student Experience at the
University of Chicago
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Joseph Salek (PhB 1932) as Zee Zee, in Captain Kidd, Jr., Blackfriars, 1931.

Joseph Salek (PhB 1932) as Zee Zee, in Captain Kidd, Jr., Blackfriars, 1931. Pirates, moonlight, and swaying palms provided the perfect backdrop for the character of Zee Zee, "the alluring and sensuous Caribbean maiden" who danced, the Blackfriars said, "with languorous and dreamy quality to the soft tunes of the West Indies."


The chorus line from Step Ahead, Mirror Review, 1934.

The chorus line from Step Ahead, Mirror Review, 1934. Drawing inspiration from Broadway and Hollywood, the women of the Mirror Review tapped and kicked their way through a series of energetically choreographed annual shows. Photograph by Maurice Seymour.




The Performing Arts

The Blackfriars, though popular for much of the University's history, was hardly the first or only student theater group. The tradition of original, student-inspired drama was established in 1895 with the founding of the Dramatic Club. Like most student organizations, the Dramatic Club was created without any active encouragement from the University administration. After 1900, Dramatic Club productions like Miss Flim Flam were joined by a wide variety of other plays ranging from light melodramas to recognized classics.

In 1923 proliferating student theater groups were brought together under the Dramatic Association, a coordinating organization which helped arrange scheduling and production details. Each component of the Association was allowed to retain its own distinctive identity: the Gargoyles (the descendant of the Dramatic Club) admitted both men and women; the Tower Players admitted only men; while the Mirror Review, a group responsible for staging spectacular chorus-line musicals each spring, was composed entirely of women. By 1936, the Dramatic Association had an impressive total of 300 members and listed among its alumni professional actors and actresses such as Milton Sills (PhB 1931, JD 1932), Frances Dee (Ex 1931), Emily Taft (PhB 1919), Marie Adels (Ex 1926), Margaret Letitia Ide (G 1926 Lab School), Lucite Hoerr (PhB 1930), James Carlin Crandall (PhB 1920), Frank Parker (PhB 1923, AM 1927), Fred Handschy (PhB 1926), Will Geer (SB 1924), and Fritz Leiber (PhB 1932).

Drama at the University of Chicago expanded again in 1946 with the formation of University Theater, founded by George Blair. University Theater, like its numerous dramatic predecessors, placed an emphasis on innovative and professional productions. But UT's emphasis on interpretations of classical drama from Shakespeare and Marlowe to T. S. Eliot differentiated it from the wildly original scripts of the Blackfriars. UT was also considered to be a literary theater, distinguishing it from the more popular fare of the Dramatic Association.

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