Sunday, December 7, 2014

This North Coast Monday: Not Just A Movie House

A staged reading of the first play ever produced at what became Humboldt State University happens one hundred years to the day later, on Monday December 8, at the same place: the Minor Theatre in Arcata, which is using this event to help celebrate its own centennial.  It first opened on December 3, 1914.  The reading is at 7 p.m., and is a benefit for the Emma Center.

The first staged readings this year of Her Own Way were held at HSU in October, and I wrote about that, and researched and wrote about the anniversary, the play and the playwright at HSU Stage.

Though I have nothing to do with this particular event on Monday, I did ascertain the dates that everybody is accepting.  First, there's the date of the Minor opening.  There are at least three dates in various stories that ended up on the Internet, but the most thorough of them (probably derived from the contemporaneous story in the Arcata Union) set the date at December 3.

The date of the production however comes from one source, sort of : a history of the HSU Theatre Arts Department written by its legendary chair, John Pauley.  It has the details about Humboldt State at the time, the show itself and even some information on the many other live stage presentations at the Minor in its first years.

But in the text, it gives the date of that first Her Own Way performance as December 3.  Not once, but twice.  It does however reproduce a facsimile of the poster or handbill that announced the performance, and on it the date is December 8.

The two numerals look alike so a typo is possibly, but which one?  If it's December 3, then the date for the opening of the Minor is wrong.

I concluded that the poster, not the text, was correct.  Sure, it could have been a mistake, but it's less likely, since it is contemporaneous, the kind of document an historian would accept over a later account. But what cinched it for me was that  it included the day: Tuesday, December 8.  And in fact, Dec. 8, 1914 was a Tuesday. The stories that said the Minor itself opened on Dec. 3, said it was Thursday, and that's also correct.

Pauley writes that Her Own Way was the first locally produced theatre event at the Minor.  But opening less than a week after the Minor itself opened for business with its first silent movie, makes it probable that it was the first stage event of any kind there.

As for the event on Monday, if it is the same as the reading in October, it's a kind of hybrid of a staged radio drama and a staged reading (with everybody at music stands) which I found unsatisfying as either.  But the play itself is actually involving.

The original play by the prominent and pioneer Broadway playwright of the time Clyde Fitch, has been cut considerably, and at least for the October readings, its most popular character in its Broadway run in 1903 was cut out entirely.  But she was comic relief in a way that may not translate, and not integral to the story.

The stars are the Stockwells--Danny, Greta and Glenys.  Everybody reads their parts from loose-leaf script binders, except Glenys, who even at the publicity photo shoot had her part memorized.  At the first performance she seemed to know the cues for other performers as well.  Who knows, by now she may be directing the show.

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