Footlighters, part 2 – Women included in membership

As we recounted last week, the presentation of “Erstwhile Susan” by the Dramatic section of the Saturday Club on February 8, 1929, had much to do with the formation of the Footlighters. For one thing, the cast of that play included a number of men, and since the Club boasted none in its membership, these parts had to be taken by women. And so there was much discussion on the formation of some sort of a dramatic organization which should include both men and women in its membership.

Whether this discussion went on for almost an entire year is not recorded. But it was that long before any steps were taken to form such an organization. On January 6, 1930, Mrs. Richard Howson, then drama chairman of the Club, presided at an evening meeting at which Mrs. Willis T. Spivey was appointed temporary secretary The main discussion seemed to hinge on whether the contemplated dramatic group should be, or should not be, a “Club Study Class.” There were great monetary advantages to the former since a “Study Class” would not have to pay rentals for rehearsals and performances, though it should be self-supporting.

As this writer well remembers, there was considerable reluctance on the part of some of the men to affiliate themselves so closely with an organization as distinctly a women’s group as was the Saturday Club. However, W. N. Stilwell finally meade a motion “that the Little Theater Group be started under the auspices of the Saturday Club as a club class with nominal fees to come within the by-laws.” Percy W. Clark’s motion that “finances be started by initiation fee of one dollar” was carried, whereupon all those present joined the new organization.

T. Bayard Beatty refused the presidency on the grounds that this office would handicap him in his capacity as play director. Mrs. Howson was then unanimously elected to the office with Mr. Stilwell as secretary and Mr. Clark as treasurer. A committee on organization plans included Mrs. Y. P. Dawkins, Walter A. Halkett and Mrs. Willis T. Spivey, in addition to Mr. Stilwell and Mr. Clark. Dr. J. Arthur Standen was named as chairman of the publicity committee.

And from that time on Footlighter affairs moved rapidly with a meeting on January 14 at which by-laws were adopted after “animated discussion concerning certain provisions” and an open meeting on February 18, which began with a business session and ended with the first play given by the Footlighters, “The Last of the Joneses.” Directed by Walter Halkett, the play had in its cast Dewitt C. Clement, a librarian; Mrs. C. H. Rolf, his assistant; Miss Cornelia Wright, a young lady in trouble and Mrs. F. W. Conner as Mrs. Abbott “from the West.”

The SUBURBAN of February 21 gave the following write-up, “Dewitt C. Clement gave a most realistic portrayal of a young geneologist, shyly and absent-mindedly going through his first, and it is supposed, his last love affair, with the charming little lady in distress, Miss Neal Wright. The latter won the sympathy of the audience, as well as their admiration for the clever way she handled her part. Mrs. C. H. Rolf, in some mysterious fashion, added 20 years to her age and at least 40 to her looks, and gave an excellent character study of an old-maid secretary. Frs. F. W. Conner, a newcomer to St. davids, pleased everyone by her presentation of a Western relation trying to get a fortune, and be conscientous about it at the same time – a hard thing to do.

“We should like to make special mention here of the scenery which received a large hand all on its own merit. As a result, Howard Tilghman, who was responsible for it, has been elected chairman of properties for life, as far as the Footlighters are concerned. – – – The evening ended in an informal reception, and all enjoyed the coffee and cakes, served by Mrs. Post and her committee. Everyone is now looking forward to the next meeting in March”.

At this March meeting two one-act plays were presented, “The Little Stone House” and “A Matter of Husbands”. The old record book even has pictures of these two casts! They included Miss Ruth Wetzel, Miss Cora Roever, Jules Prevost, Harold Dwight, W. N. Stilwell, Arthur Edrop and Francis Smaltz for the first play, with its Russian setting for which T. Bayard Beatty, Jr., had made “a most exquisite ikon, copied from a Russian original”.

Mr. and Mrs. Makarov with their knowledge of Russia had also helped to make the details of the peasant home true and accurate. (Mrs. Makarov was director of the Neighborhood League at that time). This rather tragic story of a little old peasant woman, a part most sympathetically taken by Ruth Wetzel, was directed by Mr. Beatty. It was followed by “A Matter of Husbands”, a play consisting of a dialogue between Mary Soleliac as a famous actress and Madeline Hale as an earnest young woman.

April brought “The Drums of Oude”, this time on two different nights. A suggestion given in advance through the columns of the SUBURBAN was that “to avoid overcrowding on either night . . . those whose names begin with A through L come the first night . . . and those from M to Z, the second night!” At the moment the writer does not remember whether this solved the problem or not.

In the cast were Charles C. Smith, Eugene Williams, Arthur Edrop, T. Bayard Beatty, Jr., Barry E. Thompson, William Welsh, Jr., and Mrs. W. Roberts Cameron. As the action of the play took place in 1857 in the store room of an ancient palace in Northern India, both staging and costuming must have presented its difficulties! A program note states that “we are indebted to Captain Edgar C. Kirsopp, M. C., late of the 42nd Highlanders (Black Watch), and alter Staff Officer, for advice as to correct military usage; and to Mr. Frank MacIlhair, secretary of the Caledonian Pipe Band of Philadelphia, for the use of several of the uniforms.