‘A Year in the Life’ first show in ECU’s new Ataloa Theatre
Friday, September 18, 2009
Student musicians, singers and dancers will be the first performers on the giant stage of the Ataloa Theatre at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 25, through Saturday, Sept. 26, in East Central University’s new Hallie Brown Ford Fine Arts Center in a show full of music, 100 years of university memories, innovative costumes and authentic fashions, even a 1930’s wool bathing suit.
The light-hearted musical tells the history of ECU, but from a student’s perspective – what was fun or meaningful for them, said Dr. Delma Hall, ECU assistant vice president for academic affairs who has long been associated with ECU Theatre and is now an expert on ECU’s history.
Hall wrote and directs the show, “ECU, A Year in the Life: Celebrating 100.” The two performances are the final events of a week of Centennial observances marking ECU’s first classes on Sept. 20, 1909.
“It’s our first performance in the Ataloa Theatre and it’s very fitting that students should be the first performers on the new stage,” Hall said. “It’s a beautiful thing to see very talented kids display what they do. I’m always impressed to see that.”
Approximately 200 students will perform in the show, including ECU’s Marching Band and SHOWTIME. The program cover will feature a serigraph by ECU graduate and renowned artist Leon Polk Smith.
Free tickets for the Centennial production are now available through Thursday, Sept. 24, at the information desk in the University Center. They can be picked up from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays, from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday.
Tickets also can be reserved by calling 580-559-5664 or emailing email@example.com. They can be picked up at the “will call” window at the ticket booth at the fine arts center from 3 to 7 p.m. Sept. 25, or for the Saturday performance, from 4:40 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sept. 26.
The Hallie Brown Ford Fine Arts Center will be dedicated at 4 p.m. Sept. 25. Free tours will be conducted from 3 to 3:45 p.m. and from 5 to 6:45 p.m. on Sept. 25 and from 5 to 6:45 p.m. on Sept. 26.
Hall said the Centennial show is about what other students did in their “year in the life” of the university, from singing in a quartet or being one of the Jungle Maids to panty raids and streaking. Little-known historical facts are thrown in, such as a mention of football coach Tom Landry who was one of 300 air cadets who trained on campus during World War II.
“Your year in the life is the year you were here,” she said.
“Our years blend one into another and a university’s life just continues,” she added.
In the same manner, a series of seamless stories, songs and dances will highlight the best-known happenings at ECU, as well as some that aren’t so well known.
A voice-over introduction to the production will include a fashion show. Most of the clothing, except for the 1909 style, is authentic, including the 1930s bathing suit, a Marilyn Monroe-style bathing suit and “beautiful outfits from the 1940s that have just been donated to us,” Hall said. “I think it will be fun for people to see how fashions have changed over the years.”
Hall said she thought the 1920s would have been fun at ECU, but the 1940s would have been traumatic.
“So many left because of World War II, not only the young men, but faculty and staff,” she explained. “Dorothy Summers (for whom the theatre in Science Hall is named) worked training helicopter repair people in Amarillo.”
Many office workers also helped train people for the war effort, and Dr. Charles Spencer, a future ECU president, gained national prominence in Washington, D.C.
“At the end of the 1940s, the GIs came back and we had our first families,” Hall said. “The dynamics of the university changed.”
The “Year in the Life” production also depicts the signing of Bill 83 that established East Central Normal School and recalls the passing of Diamond, the circus elephant that was buried somewhere on the campus in 1919 after efforts to preserve the skeleton failed miserably.
Performing “My Blue Heaven” as the well-known East Central Quartet of Harvey Faust, Burgess Steed, Lowell Turner and Oscar Parker will be Joseph Terrell, Jomain McKenzie, Ryan Corley and Chris Geisler.
Harvey Faust married Mary Bella Harvey, one of the women who sometimes accompanied the quartet, so Hall has a married couple, Chris and Brooke Geisler, sing “Side by Side.”
To honor the Golden Decade of ECU Basketball, the 1930s, six basketball players will perform a dribbling/passing routine choreographed by Dr. Victoria Dansby to “Sweet Georgia Brown” with whistling accompaniment by Eric Hollingsworth.
“In 1938 we had a summer lyceum that demonstrated television, which I think was very progressive of us,” Hall said.
She is recreating that event with a television showing “Story Time with Miss Nancy,” filmed by ECU media students. Miss Nancy (actually Dr. Richard Groetzinger, assistant professor of communication) has a bit of an attitude as she tells the story of the petrified Callixylon tree.
In 1943, women students were glad the Air Cadets brought 300 men to the campus, a time recalled with dancers wearing airplanes, scarves, goggles and flight hats. At the end of World War II, a “newsreel,” filmed by media students, will depict a student coming to ECU on the GI Bill, met by Sen. Ernest McFarland of Arizona, an ECU graduate who is called one of the “fathers of the GI Bill.”
Jomain McKenzie, as 1950s student Ronald Jones, will sing “Unforgettable” with a swing band representing the popular campus group, the Tune Toppers. The band also will play “Rock Around the Clock.”
The 1960s brought panty raids to the campus as well as the establishment of most of its fraternities and sororities and the introduction of Dr. Don Gant’s new fight song.
Streakers were part of ECU’s history during the 1970s, so Hall naturally included Ray Stevens’ “The Streak” from 1974, but tweaked it so all the action happens on the ECU campus.
“Finally, Ethel takes her clothes off, too,” Hall said with a laugh. “They will be wearing body suits. There’s no nudity.”
ECU graduate and Nashville recording artist Rebecca Frederick will return to perform “Loving’ in the Mud” to tie in with ECU’s first Mud Olympics in 1986.
Other historic events included in the show are the school’s new status as a university in 1974, the selection of a name for the tiger mascot, the national NAIA football championship in 1993, the addition of new buildings and the advent of everyday electronics products.
“The finale will be a celebration of the future,” Hall said, “and a celebration of the Hallie Brown Ford Fine Arts Center.”
Choreographed by Dansby, “Emergence” will be performed by Collage, ECU’s dance ensemble, to symbolize the coming together of the Art, Communication and Music Departments into one building.
“The dancers will be costumed as all the arts in the building. They will start out separately and come together as one,” Hall said.
In the background for the finale, as well as in numerous other scenes, images will be projected onto a screen, a feature not possible before. Rudy Lupinski will provide most of the accompaniment on a grand piano in the new orchestra pit.
“We want to show all the bells and whistles of the fine arts center,” Hall said. “We’ve never had this capability before.”
While the show may have been her vision, Hall said, “I’m just a little speck on the wall compared to all the talent that is involved.”
In addition to Dansby and Groetzinger, other faculty members working behind the scenes are Patrick Sweet, Dr. Allen Correll, Dr, Mark Hollingsworth, Dr. Steve Walker, Theo Peshehonoff, Dallas Coplin, Christina Mitchell and Vickie Reifsnider.