Alumni Hall as a Theatre

Tommy - 1930
Recent photos posted on this blog have been showing the dismantling of the balcony and ceiling in Alumni Hall — both essential parts of the building during its time as Knox’s theatre.

The same central part between the two literary society buildings that once served as a library was also the College’s theatre from 1928, when the library collection was moved to Seymour Library, until 1965, when the Ford Center for Fine Arts opened.

The photo above is of a play put on in 1930 called Tommy.

Once the books were removed, the seats were restored to the theatre. The floor had a capacity of 625 people, and the balcony held 225 people. The quiet library changed to a resonant theatre with the help of some new paint and acoustic tiles. A 1929 issue of The Knox Student reported on the space’s new “harmonious yellow tint” and “side lights of attractive decorative nature.”

Future renovations, mostly safety-based, took place later. The theatre was prone to fires, and there was a rewiring in 1948 and a major overhaul in 1963. A memo from 1962 reports a careless student lit some drapes on fire. And the memo writer was not pleased: “May I point out this is our second experience with a fire that could’ve been dangerous. The third time, we may not be so lucky.”

The 1963 renovation added a state-of-the-art light board, four dressing rooms, a sewing room, extra closet areas for costumes, a light room, and a makeup room, as well as fire-safety measures.

When the Center for Fine Arts was constructed, Harbach Theatre became the main stage for the College’s productions, although the stage and seating in Alumni Hall continued to be used as a general-purpose meeting area and alternate theatre.

The stars of the Alumni Hall stage were immortalized by the graffiti that each cast member left after a show along the inside walls of the theatre and on the ceiling above the catwalk. Graffiti left over the years can be seen in this video.

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