Letters to the editor are always welcome. Below are excerpts from a letter recently received from Dr. Arthur Hopper, professor emeritus of theatre.
“When I received the fall issue of the Millikin Quarterly, I was delighted to read about the planned renovation and use of the Old Gym. The Old Gym holds a special place in my memory as I was the first to use it as a theatre space in the early ’70s.
I came to Millikin in fall 1970 to be the chair of the then speech department. There were eight speech majors and two other speech faculty. There were no theatre majors; a major in musical theatre was unheard of. Malcolm Forbes, then dean of the College Arts and Sciences, had brought me there to start a theatre major. The name of the department was soon changed to the department of speech and theatre. Sets were to be built in an empty classroom on the ground floor of AT Hall. The only tools were a few hand saws and hammers. No power tools. No costume shop. Set pieces, (basically flats and platforms) were stored in the attic above AT Hall. It was a very primitive situation.
By fall 1971 we had a major in theatre and musical theatre (thanks to the talented music majors who were participating in plays). The course requirements for these majors were very basic, as we had only two theatre faculty, me and Stuart McDaniels, our technical director and designer. The next year we added a third faculty member who taught acting and directing. We did the first musical in Kirkland in the fall of 1972: “The Man of LaMancha.” A gala event was held with Mrs. Kirkland and Governor Ogilvie attending. Soon after, we were given the Old Gym for a scene shop and storage area. That was quite a week. We literally threw things out the AT Hall attic window and trucked them to the Old Gym. We soon began using the Old Gym as a rehearsal space. I remember well choreographing the fight scene for “West Side Story” with Tim Shew ’80 as Tony in the gym.
I have so many memories of Millikin; working with Steve Fiol on “Godspell, Jodi Mazaroti Benson’s audition for the musical theatre program, Dwight Jordan’s choreography, taking three shows to the American College Theatre Festival, the installation of the TV equipment for the student radio station, directing almost 15 shows in Kirkland during the summers.
I am happy and honored to have been a part of the initial stages of a program that has grown to be the outstanding program it is today. I know that this growth could not have occurred without hard-working, talented and dedicated faculty, a central administration who saw the value to the university and supported the growth and to the recruitment of many talented students. The latest development – the creation of a Theatre Arts Center in the Old Gym – is something of which we all can be proud. Congratulations to all.”
– Dr. Arthur Hopper