Friday Flashback #168

In 1958 — prodded by a student named Christopher Lloyd* — Staples High School English teacher Craig Matheson directed “You Can’t Take it With You.”

Staples Players was born.

In the 61 years since, the drama troupe has earned national — even international — renown. (Their original production of “War and Pieces” was included in a United Nations traveling exhibit.)

But Players was not Staples’ first drama group.

For decades, individual classes put on plays. They were modest affairs.

In 1950 — the year after the juniors and sophomores joined together to put on “Our Town” — the 12th, 11th and 10th grade classes combined to produce “Blithe Spirit.” Led by legendary English instructor V. Louise Higgins, they called themselves the Masque and Wig Club.

The entire cast included 7 students.

Because Staples — then located on Riverside Avenue (the current Saugatuck Elementary School) — had no auditorium,  the play was staged at Bedford Junior High (today, Kings Highway Elementary).

Little is known about that early effort, or any that followed. But alert “06880” reader — and Staples grad/Players fan/producer Fred Cantor — dug up some photos.

Director V. Louise Higgins (foreground) and cast member Lucia Kimber.

The entire cast of “Blithe Spirit” (from left): Hope Collier, Jane Schmidt, Wendy Ayearst, Lee Moulton, Priscilla Planten, George Barton and Lucia Kimber.

The simple, 4-page program for “Blithe Spirit” notes:

By the time the present Sophomores are Seniors, if the club continues, they will be a reasonably well-trained group.

Perhaps even by that time the school will have some sort of drama department, for before any more real progress can be made, a speech teacher and proper facilities are needed.

Tonight, the curtain rises for Staples Players’ elaborate production of “Mamma Mia!” Choreography, acting, the pit, lighting, sets — all will be near Broadway-quality.

Thanks in part to the Masque and Wig Club, our high school indeed has “some sort of drama department.”

* Yes, that Christopher Lloyd

(Hat tip: Fred Cantor)

Half of the Masque and Wig Club program for “Blithe Spirit” …

… and the other part.

16 responses to “Friday Flashback #168

  1. Interesting to learn about the history. Thanks for sharing.

  2. It’s neat to know that the “fourth period art class” provided the posters and “Mr. Edward Ponte’s metal class” provided the metal workings.

    I am really excited to see Mamma Mia on Saturday night!

  3. Nancy Powers Conklin

    I had V. Louise Higgins for sophomore English. That was an experience! And, the text book we were using was written by her!

  4. Geraldine Crooker

    I had V. Louise Higgins for senior English. She definitely was legendary, as was Edna P. Kearns (listed in the program).

  5. The original Masque & Whig club was an all-male theatrical group founded at the University of Pennsylvania. They made recording history in 1925-6 making what was arguably the first electronic recording. Prior to that rime people sang into horns which caused an attached needle to vibrate, creating a groove on a disk. No electricity was used in this “acoustic method.” It produced a rather thin sound, but recordings by Enrico Caruso, Billy Murray Henry Burr and other recording pioneers used this method.

  6. I was among the crew for that production of Blithe Spirit. To be in the presence of V. Louise was to be within the aura of the Illuminati; yet, she was diplomatic with the entire ensemble — stars and stagehands alike. Often, after we wrapped a rehearsal a group would troop over to the Westnor and talk “theahhhh-tuh” until all hours. Here, where I live, in Portland, OR, Artists Repertory Theatre mounted Blithe Spirit. My wife and I were “thrilllllled” to accept extremely minor roles in the production.

    • J., a newspaper write-up of the prior year’s production of “Our Town” favorably compared the performance of student Robert Patten to that of a prior role of Frank Perry in “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” which it stated is “acclaimed as the best theatrical performance in the history of the school.” Do you know if that is the Frank Perry who ultimately became a prominent filmmaker? If so, I didn’t realize he went to Staples.

      • Yes, Fred, that was indeed the same Frank Perry. He was the star of our 1947 show “The Man Who Came to Dinner” along with David Hollister. I worked on the scenery and my particular job was to decorate the mummy case that appears in the show and was built by the Shop class. The mummy case actually got applause when it was wheeled onto the stage and then when it was opened everyone saw, unplanned, a Kilroy Was Here sign and much laughter, but not from me. (If you don’t know about that, Google Kilroy was Here.)

    • You are so right about “V. Louise”!

  7. Oops! Hit comment too soon. I was class of ’58 with Christopher Lloyd.
    If I remember correctly he and Cathy Boyd married. We are travelling but when I get home I’ll see if I can find any pictures of Christopher Lloyd and productions from 1957 & 58 and send them to Dan if I am successful. I’m reposting to Facebook hoping some of my classmates might see this and post some.

  8. Love the ads–all those wonderful “home-grown” Main Street stores!

  9. What a lovely article Dan. Thanks.

  10. That’s my mom! Jane Schmidt! Now Jane van Summern still here in Westport!

  11. I am sure she does….she was very excited to see this. Still active and engaged at a soon to be 88. Lives next door to me here on wilton road on the property she grew up on.

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