From our earliest records, we know that music and theatre have long been a huge part of the cultural life of Kimball Union. Choral groups have always been popular whether they were called The Glee Club, The KUA Singers, or the Community Singers. There have been many smaller groups from the Choir at the Stone Church where attendance was mandatory for all students before 1975 to
acapella groups, classical ensembles, jazz bands and marching bands. Many of these were part of the curriculum, but sometimes students enjoyed forming their own bands.
Over the years, performances were held in an array of places, almost wherever there was a stage or an open space, from the Chapel in Baxter Hall, Meriden Town Hall, Silver Gym, Alumni Gym, Hayes Auditorium In Fitch Hall to the wonderful theatre in Flickinger Arts Center. Venues for outdoor performances have come and gone too, with dancers performing on the church lawn in the early 1900s, theatre in the Campus Woods, the Meriden Bird Sanctuary, the MerrillOutdoor Theatre on Chellis Road and a very grand event, the celebration in 1913 of the Centennial of KUA’s founding in 1813 with the Pageant of Meriden, staged for a thousand people on the Potato Patch. During the years KUA was an all boys’ school (1935-1974), innovation became the rule for girls’ roles; it was necessary for boys to fill those roles although, many times, the wives of the male faculty were inveigled, or chose, to play those parts or sometimes, local teenagers were asked to perform. Strangely, even your KUA Archivist was tantalized many, many years ago by Director Sara Townsend (1959-1969) into performing in Teahouse of the August Moon! Gratefully, a non-speaking role!!
Photographs are from the 1940s through the 1960s of music and theatre at KUA.
The 1947 yearbook praised the actors’ hilarious performances that often left the audience close to tears. The editor went on to say, “Alden Guild ’48 acted his role of the loving daughter convincingly right down to the last scene in which he had to take his (or should we say her?) red skirt off to flag the train … . And Peter Haslam ‘47 nearly drew tears in his mock-heroic portrayal of the penniless and aged widow.” The Can-Can girls were played by three freshmen; one of them, Wil Kurth ‘50, far right, became a KUA trustee (1975-1983) and life-long supporter of the Academy.
Harvey, the story of Elwood P. Dowd, who believes his best friend is a giant rabbit, was performed for Father’s Weekend, an annual event, like Mother’s Weekend, that welcomed fathers or mothers to spend the weekend with their sons at KUA. Sara Townsend, wife of KUA Treasurer Ira Townsend ‘38 (1945-1985), taught French and directed the theatre in the 1960s. Here, she and Hazel Mitchell, wife of math and science teacher Cullous Mitchell (1956-1971), took on the roles of the two sisters in Arsenic
and Old Lace.
The Band played “a wide variety of fight songs” at football games and provided “an important element of encouragement to the team.” They also performed at Commencement and other events. The Jazz Masters, known as the “Jacks” for their leader Jack Mitchell who unfortunately was called into military service in the middle of the year, left them his stands and his music so that they could continue
The 4-Notes played Dixieland music and “converted Bryant Hall ping pong room into something resembling a New Orleans hot spot and attracted good crowds with their rendition of ‘Sister Kate,’ ‘Jada,’ and others. They recorded their music themselves which included an original arrangement called ‘Blues on the Roof.’” Stan Vincent ’53, above on trombone in 1953, has performed at several alumni events with his band, the New Black Eagle Jazz Band.
The Eight performed for the school as well as travelling as far afield as Salem, MA, for rotary and Kiwanis clubs. Organized, according to the yearbook, “for the pure enjoyment of harmonizing and specializing in melodies of the barbershop variety. Possibly the most exclusive, as well as the most democratic organization in the Academy, The Eight, which sometimes became nine for reasons best known to its members, will long be remembered for its harmonic contributions on the many occasions when it wholeheartedly consented to perform.”
Kimball Union students of today, whether musicians or actors, artists, potters or dancers, are fortunate to have their own building, the Flickinger Arts Center, to create amazing work for their and the communities enjoyment.