Millikin Theatre & Dance Through the Years
Theatre and dance at Millikin stretch back over 100+ year of University history! Both theatre and dance have had a number of academic and physical homes at Millikin, but despite wandering through many campus buildings and departments, both have grown to become highly-rated programs, both regionally and nationally.
In the beginning, campus theatre performances were limited to student club and society productions, mainly from the Dramatic Art Club. Early plays were usually performed during commencement week celebrations. After Millikin added Homecoming to their yearly calendar (about a decade later), Homecoming plays became a staple and allowed student playwrights to practice their skills writing comedies that referenced Millikin professors, administrator, students, and campus events.
Academically, early students had to look to the English department for theatre-themed classes. At first, the English department's only theatre offering was a class in Shakespeare, though they also had courses in elocution and public speaking. In 1907, the department changed the Shakespeare course name to "The Drama," and expanded coverage to include other Elizabethan dramatists. In 1910, a second drama class was added, with a focus on "modern" drama (Ibsen, Shaw, Hauptmann, etc.).
In the late teens and early 1920s, English classes were added in "Dramatic Parts" and "Interpretation of Literature" (play presentation) and the Music Conservatory added classes in eurythmic exercises. By the 1930s, English majors could take classes in play production and playwriting and the Speech Arts department in the Music Conservatory included courses in dramatic analysis, technique of acting, and pantomime. Music students had additional dance course options of ballet and interpretive dance.
Theatre saw an academic explosion on Millikin's campus in the 1970s. The Department of Speech previously had allowed its majors to select an emphasis in either communication or dramatics, but by 1971, theatre became a separate major, and by 1975, it became its own department within the College of Arts and Sciences, separate from the Communication department. In 1984, theatre and dance finally came together in the newly formed College of Fine Arts, along with music and art. In 2016, the department was renamed the School of Theatre and Dance. Soon, the Center for Theatre and Dance will complete the next stage of Millikin's theatre and dance journey!
Early Millikin Theatre
Before it became a major, Millikin theatre was the responsibility of various student organizations. The Dramatic Art Club put on most of Millikin's early plays, but other student clubs (like the German Club, Deutscher Verein) would often put on plays or dramatic readings as part of their activities and fundraisers as well. Millikin's early dramatic prize contests were open to all clubs, classes, and student societies.
She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith was the first play performed at Millikin. Students performed the comedy on June 4, 1904 in Assembly Hall (now Albert Taylor Theatre) as part of the 1904 commencement celebrations. Admission was 25 cents and tickets could be purchased at King's drug store.
According to the November 1905 Millikin University Bulletin, the best dramatic art presentation by a class, club, or society could win a prize of $20 (with inflation, approximately $500 in 2017 dollars).
Above, Earle Winters, Edlyn Sleeter, and Elsa Olsen of the German Club/Deutscher Verein perform in the play Ein Knopf (A Button) in the University Chapel (now Albert Taylor Theatre). The May 12, 1907 issue of the Decatur Herald newspaper described the plot of the play: At a German University, a newly married professor wears a big red button on his jacket to remind himself of his love for his wife while studying intensely. Unfortunately, the button he uses is from the dress of an old girlfriend (not his wife), which causes several comical misunderstandings.
Twelfth Night (program above) was the second Shakespeare play to be performed at Millikin (the first was A Midsummer Night's Dream, in 1905).
The Dramatic Art Club (pictured, above, in the 1906 Millidek) was the first theatre club at Millikin, and put on most of Millikin's early plays (listed, below).
Millikin's first annual prize contest for the dramatic arts included a production of Sheridan's The Rivals (program above) by the Dramatic Art Club.
In 1917-1918, the Dramatic Art Club changed its name to Millikin Masque (pictured, left, in the 1918 Millidek), but it kept the name only for that year, and became the Millikin Dramatic Club in 1918-1919. In 1923, the group became the semi-honorary society the Millikin Dramatic Council, which then changed its name to Blue Domino in 1926.
The Vagabond Players, a campus group that included both students and community members, formed in fall 1928. Their first play, A Thousand Years Ago (program, above), was performed during Homecoming week in 1929. The next year, the group became known as Town and Gown, and lasted through the 1960's. In 1970-1971, it became the Showcase theatre group.
Millikin Dance: On Point
Millikin's dance students have also wandered through more than one physical and academic home. In the early days, dance was limited to aspects of women's "physical training," which included activities to "improve bodily health, develop vital organs, round out a symmetrical form, [and] give grace of movement." In the nineteen-teens, Dalcroze Eurythmics classes were added to the course offerings in the Millikin Conservatory of Music's Department of Dance and Physical Training, then later, in the late 1920's, ballet and interpretive dancing. It was not until 1984 that theatre and dance were joined together in the Department of Theatre and Dance in the newly-formed College of Fine Arts.
Dalcroze Eurythmics (pictured, above, in 1927) was once a freshman course required for the Bachelor of Science in Public School Music degree.
There was nothing elementary about the talent and skill featured in the 1972 production of The Fantastic Toy Shop.
A Millikin dance class in action, 1986.
One! Students rehearse for the 1986 production of A Chorus Line (left); A pair of dance students rehearse in this undated photograph (right).
Millikin students have presented many dramatic pieces over the course of the school's history, and, over the years, classes in drama have been offered as part of both the English major and the Speech major. However, it wasn't until 1971 that "Theatre Arts" was officially on Millikin's list of possible majors. Four years later, in 1975, Millikin theatre had its own department, providing the perfect home for Millikin students wishing to see their names on a marquee.
Doomed love was in the air for the 1962 Town and Gown production of Romeo and Juliet.
This photograph features a scene from the 1982 Millikin performance of Equus.
The Millikin theatre was a "Giant" with the October, 1987 production of Come Back to the 5-and-Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.
The 1987 performance of Dracula was a source of entertainment for those with discerning "platelets."
The 1994 production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses provided a certain "Je ne sais quoi" for theatre audiences.
Musical productions have always been popular at Millikin, but early productions were mainly offered by the School of Music and focused on opera and operetta. On April 2, 1975, faculty meeting minutes note the official approval of Millikin's Musical Theatre (B.F.A.) major. The establishment of this new major occurred just after Theatre Arts separated from the Department of Communication & Theatre Arts to become its own department in the School of Liberal Arts.
Live horses grace the stage of Kirkland Fine Art Center's theatre for the 1974 production of The Music Man in 1974.
The November, 1981 production of Brigadoon was "Almost like being in love."
Arthurian legend broke into song for Millikin's 1986 production of Camelot.
All hands on deck! HMS Pinafore, performed in 1948.
In this 1996 production, the character of J. Pierrepont Finch explains How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
Performing Behind the Scenes
Theatre and dance production are not successful without a great backstage crew. Students in lighting, make-up, costume, sound, production, and set design and construction have all played a vital part in allowing Millikin theatre and dance to shine.
Backstage members construct a set for a 1971 Showcase theatre production.
The Backstage Club, 1975. Then Theatre department chair, Arthur Hopper, can be seen in the front, left, wearing glasses.
Costume make-up is applied for a character in the 1968 Homecoming play, If the Shoe Fits, Wear It.
A student adds finishing touches to a performer's make-up in this undated photo.
Backstage Club, 1980. This club was for all those involved in the "behind the scenes" work for Millikin productions.
Here & There, Millikin Theatre Happens Everywhere!
The Millikin passion for theatre and dance knows no boundaries. Over the last 100+ years, Millikin students have performed theatre and dance in many locations, including Albert Taylor Theatre (formerly called Assembly Hall, the University Auditorium, or the Chapel), Kirkland Fine Arts Center, the Old Gym, Mueller Hall, Westminster Presbyterian Church, in one of Pipe Dreams' many locations, in classrooms, outdoors, and on the radio.
In 1950, the Town and Gown players performed a series of short radio plays as part of the weekly series This is Millikin..., broadcast on area station WDZ.
This 1986 production of Murder in the Cathedral was performed in Westminster Presbyterian Church.
Pipe Dreams, a series of experimental theatre productions, was started by theatre and dance department chair David Golden in December, 1984. Its first production was Guernica by Ferdinand Arrabal. Pipe Dreams plays (and later Pipe Dreams II plays) have been performed in several campus spaces, including the Old Gym, Mueller Hall, the Mills Common Room, the space that is currently Oakwood Tattoo on S. Oakland St., and West Towne Plaza.
Former Theatre and Dance chair, David Golden.
Mueller Hall (demolished in 2006 to make way for the Millikin's Miller Quad) was just one of the locations of Pipe Dreams.
As of fall 2020, Millikin's School of Theatre and Dance has moved into the first space on campus dedicated solely to the study of theatre and dance. To discover more about theatre and dance on campus today, check out Millikin's School of Theatre and Dance!