Footlighters, part 1 – T. Bayard Beatty

This week The Footlighters, Wayne’s own Little Theatre group, comes of age when they present “Jenny Kissed Me” in the opening of the twenty-first season of that organization. On February 18, 1930, “The Last of the Jones” was given as the initial performance of a newly formed dramatic group of which Mrs. Richard Howson was the president; W. N. Stilwell, secretary; Percy W. Clark, treasurer and T. Bayard Beatty, director. Minutes of that meeting state that “Mr. Clark, having by strenuous efforts caught up sufficiently with his work, announced that he had paid membership of 189, 26 not paid, and would have many more before the evening was over.” A perusal of that membership list shows that almost all were residents of Radnor Township. The 1948-49 membership totaled well over 500 with residents in almost every suburban community in the vicinity and even in Philadelphia itself!

Of the original small group who first met to discuss the possibility of a local Little Theatre, not one now remains on the membership list. Some have lost interest, some have moved from Wayne, while death has claimed others. Of the somewhat later and considerably larger working unit scarcely a half dozen have maintained continuous membership in the intervening years. (These include Mr. and Mrs. T. Bertram Genay, Mr. and Mrs. W. N. Stilwell and Mrs. T. Magill Patterson.) And yet the Footlighters have always had sufficient support to maintain an unbroken record of yearly plays, through times of prosperity and times of depression, through times of peace and times of war. Starting as a Saturday Club “study class” back in January, 1930, the organization, having long since severed its formal connection with the Club, now has promise of a play house of its very own in the not too distant future.

Few organizations of any kind have the wealth of past records that the Footlighters possess. The first “scrap book,” a heavy and cumbersome volume, starts with “A Foreword . . . in which the Footlighter historian attempts to trace the story of that organization from its beginning to the point at which newspaper clippings, pictures, programs and copies of the minutes of various meetings take up the story and carry it on.” That historian and her successors have filled scrap book after scrap book with play programs, pictures of many casts, yearly lists of members, and newspaper clippings until these books furnish an almost complete history of an amateur theatrical organization that has weathered many a storm through the twenty-one seasons of its existence.

“In tracing the idea of the Footlighters back to its beginning” so reads the Foreword, “its members may well feel that it originated with T. Bayard Beatty, whose interest in the Little Theatre Movement inspired the formation of this amateur dramatic organization of Wayne.

“Mr. Beatty became principal of Radnor High School in the Spring of 1925. Previous to that time he had been associated with Central High School in Pittsburgh, with Carnegie Institute of Technology in its Department of Dramatic Literature, and with Lebanon Valley College as head of the English Department. As a high school teacher, Mr. Beatty has some hundred and fifty dramatic productions to his credit. At Pittsburgh Central High School he put on the first play ever presented by a public school in that city. At Carnegie Tech he was associated with Thomas Wood Stevens, who is called “the father of pageantry in America,” with B. L. Payne, dramatic director for Frohman, and with William Poel, originator and founder of the Elizabethan Stage Society, in London.

“When Mr. Beatty came to Wayne, Mrs. Walter H. Dance was president of the Saturday Club. She knew of his interest in dramatics, and asked his help with some of the club plays. The handicap of having no men in these productions was discussed, and with it the possibility of some organization that should include both men and women.

“Nothing definite was done in regard to this, however, until February 8, 1929, when the Dramatic Section of the Club, under the leadership of its chairman, Mrs. Charles C. Rich, gave an exceedingly good presentation of that amusing comedy of Pennsylvania Dutch life “Erstwhile Susan.” Mr. Beatty had helped in the coaching of the play, and on the evening on which it was given he made a short between – the – acts speech setting forth his ideas in regard to a Little Theater in Wayne. He asked that all those present who were interested in an organization of this kind, sign slips indicating in what phases of the work he or she might like to engage, such as acting, making of scenery and costumes; advertising, publicity, etc. Later on, through the efforts of Mrs. Louis L. Calvert, an appeal was made to the members of the Junior Section of the Club. In all there were about one hundred names presented.

“When Mr. Beatty spoke at the performance of “Erstwhile Susan,” he planned to have a meeting two weeks later to form committees, and to select a play which should be given toward the end of March. However, it was sometime in the Spring before this meeting was held and the minutes of it (if any were taken, of which there seems some doubt), have apparently been lost. It took place at the home Mr. and Mrs. Henry Roever, and there were present, if Mr. Beatty recalls correctly: Mr. and Mrs. Charles C. Rich, Mr. and Mrs. Willis T. Spivey, Mr. and Ms. Percy W. Clark, Mr. and Mrs. Clarence H. Rolf, Mr. and Mrs. M. Howard Tilghman, Jr., Mr. and Mrs. Henry Roever and Mr. and Mrs. T. Bayard Beatty.

“At this meeting Mr. Beatty was elected chairman, and a tentative committee was to have been appointed to discuss ways and means.

“And from then until January, 1930, for one reason of another, things were at a standstill with the proposed Little Theatre movement. At that time Mrs. Roever was president of the Saturday Club, and Mrs. Richard Howson was chairman of the Dramatic Section. After conferences with Mrs. Roever and with members of her committee, Mrs. Howson decided to call a meeting for Tuesday evening, January 7, at the Club house, to discuss the formation of some sort of a dramatic organization which should include both men and women in its membership.”

(To be continued)

Note: The first Footlighter season was a short one, beginning in January, 1930, and ending that spring. The second season began in the fall of 1930. This current season is, therefore, the twenty-first.