The Arden Club is a dramatic club which not only culturally enhanced the campus of Southern Methodist University, but also the surrounding Dallas community as well. It presented a diverse selection of productions, while offering a unique program for active students and alumni to participate in. With over 100,000 audience viewers and hundreds of engaged members and alumni throughout its active years, the outreach and consistency of the Arden Club is unparalleled. It created a well-respected dramatic club on campus and helped to preserve the sacredness and esteem of theater and productions. This paper will summarize the establishment of the Arden Club and analyze the productions and decisions of the organization.
The organization was founded due to . Miss McCord began her time at Southern Methodist University first as a private speech instructor. Miss McCord, approached the then President of SMU, Dr. Robert S. Hyer, inquiring about the potential formation of a theater club or program on campus. Dr. Hyer, initially, was reserved about the idea and there was no progress in forming the club until unexpectedly, in early April 1916, Dr. Hyer asked Miss McCord to help produce a Shakespearian play at the commencement ceremony. From that point on, the formation of the club was gradual, but steady in growth. Miss McCord herself suggested the name “Arden Club” to name the program during the second ever meeting. This name was chosen because the first production by the dramatic club had taken place in a make-believe Forest of Arden, which in reality was a wooden grove at the southwest corner of the campus. Thus, the Arden Club was officially founded in 1916. The Campus summarized the new group and drew attention to the program using an article in which it stated that, “Following the noteworthy examples of State University and the other leading colleges of the country, the organization of a club to be known as Arden has at last been effected. The purpose of such a club is to foster a keener appreciation of the drama by the careful and serious study of some of the best classics” (Abbott, 15). The club, in fact, did just this. Throughout the years of 1916-1942, the Club produced 208 plays, of which were 104 one-act plays, 104 long plays, 17 being Shakespearian plays and 19 being regarded as “classics” (Abbott, 141). The productions included many amateur actors, since trained actors were scarce, and also many members of the Arden Club Alumni.
Another notable achievement of the Arden Club was the creation of other developments that emerged because of the club. The first was the McCord Theater Museum of Dallas, which began in 1933, created by a number of alumni and lovers of theater in the Dallas community. The goal of the McCord Theater Museum was to preserve and organize the history of the theater, with Mr. Russel collecting “photographs, original set designs, stills, playbills, posters, programs, masks, puppets, costumes, properties, historic scenery, scrap books, press books, autographs, dramatic periodicals, and books” to commemorate the past successes and experiences of the theater (Hassell). The other group organization that emerged from the Club was the Arden Alumni Club. This was a collection of former members that still enthusiastically participated in the Club after graduation. It was conceived in 1938 with Gus Ford as the first president. Gus Ford was an involved member of the Arden Club, playing many roles, two including the characters of Mr. Harry Sims in the 1920 production of the Twelve-Pound Look and also as Stephen Brewster in Suppressed Desires. The hope of this “creation of an ex-students organization was to bring back to the campus, if only for a moment, inspiration for the present Ardenites” (Hassell).
These two by-products of the Arden Club are only a few of the numerous other accomplishments of the organization. Not only did the group put on hundreds of admired and appreciated productions throughout its fifty-three-year history, but it also created many traditions that extended for many continuous years. One of these traditions being the annual play at the commencement ceremony. The first commencement production was the 1916 rendition of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. This sparked the tradition of a Shakespeare play or Greek play performance at each SMU commencement from the years 1916-1942 and also from 1947-1969 (Abbott). This is just one example of the many traditions that were initiated on campus due to the Arden Club.
Overall, the Arden Club plays a very remarkable role in the history of Southern Methodist University. The Arden Club program helped to promote and preserve the sanctity and importance of theater productions, as well as providing a safe, social environment for involved students on campus. The extent and impact of the Club also reached the Dallas community as a whole by creating a culturally enriching experience for both the actors and the audience members. The creation of the Club wasn’t effortless or smooth, but the emergence of the program has led to many fruitful events and traditions at SMU. The Arden Club was a main contributor to the culture during its 53 years and its legacy and history will only continue to impact the students and alumni of Southern Methodist University in the coming years.
Abbott, Billy Mack. A History of the Arden Club of Southern Methodist University from 1915 to 1942 … Thesis (M.A. in Speech and Theater) –S.M.U., 1951.
Abbott, Billy Mack. “Southern Methodist University Arden Club Collection.” University of Texas Libraries, legacy.lib.utexas.edu/taro/smu/00200/smu-00200.html.
Hassell, Jess. A “CHARTED” HISTORY OF THE S.M.U. ARDEN CLUB.” 1939.