An announcement was made in the June 1902 Kimball Union that the senior class would present As You Like It on Wednesday, June 18 at 3:30 p.m. in the Campus Woods as part of their Commencement Week Exercises. The program states that, “To the beauty of the play will be added the charm of natural scenery, as the performance will be given in the grove. Special costumes will be furnished by Messrs. Curtis & Weld of Boston. A stringed orchestra will furnish music between the acts.” After the cast listing, a line from Hamlet is included, “’Look to the players, see them well bestowed; they are the abstract and brief chroniclers of the times.’” And, on a practical note, the final words, “To defray the expenses of the play, an admission fee of 25 cents will be charged.”
The Kimball Union Academy Bulletin, a small quarterly published by KUA, reported in the May 1922 issue that “The members of the senior class have undertaken the somewhat difficult task of presenting Macbeth. Rehearsals have been going on for several weeks and the tragedy will be presented June 2 at the little theatre in the Bird Sanctuary.…” By August, the editor claims the following, “It is not often that Shakesperian tragedy is attempted by the pupils of a secondary school, and less often that the attempt meets with any degree of success.” Apparently it did as he now turned to a review of the KUA production from the Union Leader of Manchester, NH, one which “describes a successful presentation …”
The reporter wrote of an enthusiastic English class that had been studying Macbeth and decided they would like to produce the play even though none of them had any dramatic experience. Their teacher, a Mr. Pirnie, was just as enthusiastic and was “willing to give his time” to the production. Parts were assigned before Christmas and the cast found an hour here or there to rehearse, whenever the gym was free from basketball practice. It was felt by spring that the play would be a success, but the next question was, where to stage it? They could construct movable scenery for the gym but felt “the audience would be sitting below the level of the stage and could not enjoy the play as much.… The beautiful Woodland theatre of the Bird Club was immediately suggested, already famous for the play written especially for it ‘Sanctuary,’ which President Wilson attended.” The Meriden Bird Club gave them permission and soon “the enthusiasm of the seniors was so contagious that every one was interested.” Miss Annie Duncan (Duncan House) and another gentleman “took charge of costuming and lighting” and a faculty member took care of the electrical effects, including a “fine thunder storm … Quotations from Macbeth came into every day use–about the building and on the baseball field. Even the village children imitated the witches.”
The reporter had wondered, with so much enthusiasm beforehand, would the play be able to match up to it, but he wrote that it was a success. “Donald Kelley of Lawrence, Mass., who took the part of Macbeth, in voice, in expression and in pose showed the terrific determination and gradual sense of failure with which Shakespeare endowed the character. He was Macbeth. Hazel Eastman (Chellis), of Meriden, as Lady Macbeth with an expressive and well-modulated voice, spoke her lines clearly and forcefully.” The reporter thought their teacher had done a fine job with the actors’ pronunciations which seemed fitting because before coming to New Hampshire, he had been “a well known baritone soloist in Boston.”
Many years later in the 1990s, Shakespeare’s plays came to life again at KUA when math teacher Simon Harrold (1989-98) produced and directed many of them in the Howard Emerson Merrill Amphitheatre on Chellis Road during Commencement Week.
Next time: Principal Woodbury finds a new school.