The Arden Club of Southern Methodist University was the University’s student drama group from 1916 to 1969 when it became part of the Theatre Department of the Meadows School of the Arts. Originally founded to perform Shakespeare plays at commencement, the Arden Club began by staging As You Like It in the shade of a grove of trees at the southwest end of SMU’s campus in 1916, and went on to invade countless spaces which we can still see here today, from the steps of the oldest building on campus, Dallas Hall, to the McCord Auditorium. Observant visitors may notice that above the doors of the McCord Auditorium today, frosted glass bears the name ‘The Arden Playhouse’. As well as performing for an on-campus audience, the Arden Club drew in members of the community, and even toured to nearby towns including Grand Prairie, Plano, Cement City, and Duncanville, receiving rave reviews from The Dallas Morning News and other publications.
A number of Arden Club alumni went on to have very successful careers in the performing arts, including Aaron Spelling, Ludi Mae Sensabaugh Goode, Charles Meeker, and Academy Award winner Kathy Bates.
Today, students in English course 2318, Introduction to Digital Literature, have researched the Arden Club in SMU’s archives to document its history and bring it to life for a whole new digital audience on the web. In this digital project, we invite you to explore the Arden Club through its digitized archival holdings. For the first iteration of the digital project, we have documented the Club’s early years, from 1916 to 1929, both in terms of displaying items like programs, minutes from Club meetings, and membership records, and also through a series of essays on topics relevant to the Club in this time period. The project will continue to grow as subsequent iterations of the class explore the archives, so there will be another encore for the Arden Club online.