"Gaslights to Footlights" Chronicles Williams Theatre History

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Williamstown – To set the stage for the inaugural season of the '62 Center for Theatre and Dance, the Williams College Archives has "hit the boards" with a retrospective exhibit of theatrical history at Williams College. "Gaslights to Footlights: Stage and Theatre Productions at Williams" displays over two centuries of thespian paraphernalia, from the first play performed on campus (Aaron Leland's "The Fatal Error" in 1807) to today's Cap & Bells, the college's largest and most prominent student theatre organization. The exhibition is on view until May 2006, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. - noon and 1 - 4:15 p.m. in Stetson Hall. From 1795 to as late as 1858, student participation in theatrical productions could warrant a five shilling fine: according to an old copy of "Laws of Williams College," acting was prohibited in order to maintain "the decency and purity of morals" on campus. Nevertheless, drama seemed to find loopholes: Williams archivists were surprised to find records of a play written and "exhibited" by Aaron Leland, class of 1808. His play "The Fatal Error, A Tragedy" seems to have been permitted because it was assigned "academic value." Leland was later christened "father of dramatics at Williams." For the most part, early theatre at Williams was entirely student-run. The Thalian Association, founded in 1860, was among the earliest official college theatre groups; students created the Dramatic Association in 1898, which would later become Cap & Bells. In 1941, The Adams Memorial Theatre opened with their production of O'Neill's "Marco Millions." Even after the drama department was established in 1947, students continued to take strong roles in producing theatre. "Gaslights to Footlights" displays several student sketches of set designs, as well as programs from musicals that feature original scores by Stephen Sondheim '50. The rest, as they say… can be found at Williams College Archives.

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