The Arden Club 1924/1925 Season

The 1924-1925 season of the Arden Club displayed much improvement and solidity in performance and in the club as a whole. Though their first performance went up in flames (literally) they continued on with great fervor throughout the rest of the season. At this period in time, the Arden Club was made more exclusive by limiting the amount of members and making sure that they had a balanced ratio of boys to girls. They went on to perform six long plays and six one-act plays within eight productions; with Edythe Renshaw shining above the rest-foreshadowing her future success. New management assisted the Arden Club’s forthcoming endeavors, including Hallie Overstreet as the new secretary and other notable positions being changed.

Following Hallie Overstreet’s election in to the position of secretary, she was tasked with recording what happened during each play practice during the season, otherwise known as the “Minutes” of the meetings, giving us a glimpse into the club’s everyday activities. Taking on this role shows Hallie’s dedication to the club and simultaneously makes it increasingly more impressive that she was involved in such a diverse range of organizations. A few notable organizations Hallie was in were: Choral Club, Community Club, Woman’s Self Government Board, and Music Club. Her great involvement on campus best displays her multifaceted character. She was even apart of the Theta Kappa chapter of Delta Delta Delta, which remains active on SMU’s campus today. As a member myself, this drew me to further investigate her activity in the Arden Club and on campus as well.

The Arden Club’s 1925 repertoire was extensive, including the plays below. Each play they chose usually was dramatic in nature, with a secondary theme in place. This represents more so a preference of Mary McCord, the director, than the Arden Club collectively. The first play of the season was “The Passing of the Third Floor Down,” a religious natured drama written by Jerome K. Jerome. Theology students got a special showing on December 4th in 1924, the day before it was opened to the public, due to its religious undertones. Hallie Overstreet had the role of Vivian Tompkins, and Edythe Renshaw plays Mrs. Sharpe, the landlady. During this showing, after a very dramatic scene, a curtain caught on fire. The damages incurred were damage to the curtain, the front wings, and the rug on the stage floor. However, the show must go on! Fortunately, no one was hurt, and they remedied the cost of these damages by increasing the price of admission for the next two days of showings. The performance was sponsored by E.M. Kahn & Co., a high-end men’s clothier at that time located in Highland Park Village. The next slew of performances involved three one act plays, sponsored again by E.M. Kahn and Co. “The Stepmother”, “On Vengeance Height”, and “What Men Live By” were given on February 27th and 28th in 1924. All three themed in drama with comedic overlays. Each member played a different character in each one-act play. Later in the season, they performed “Milestones,” by Arnold Bennett, a drama about the upper class in England, where Hallie Overstreet played Mrs. Rhead. June 1st in 1925, the Arden Club put on “Twelfth Night” by William Shakespeare, a drama/comedy involving a love triangle and trickery. This would’ve been the last play of the season; however, they decided to provide another performance of “The Passing of the Third Floor Back,” that they began the season with, for a visiting Pastor’s school. Hallie Overstreet played Vivian Tompkins again, along with Edythe Renshaw as Mrs. Sharpe. During this performance on June 6th, an error was made and the cast repeated the epilogue twice because they started it too early. The 1924-1925 season received great reviews and featured many distinguished actors and actresses: one of which being Edythe Renshaw.

Edyth, Edith, or Edythe Renshaw was one of few Arden Club members whom continued to have their name prominently related with the Arden Club decades later-she was, however, one of many members whom never quite decided on how she liked her name to be spelled best given its many variations. Besides the more blatant association Edythe has with the Mary McCord/Edythe Renshaw Collection, Edythe began her affiliation with the Arden Club similarly to all others: as a member. Edythe first appeared in documentation concerning the Arden Club in 1920, her second year at Southern Methodist University, when she was listed as a “Fate” in the play “Masque of Pandora” directed by Miss Mary McCord-the pairing would become a frequent occurrence over the years and eventually even be memorialized by the Arden Club’s history. In 1922, Edythe appeared as a listing amongst the members of a club known as the Junior Arden Club which was distinguished from the more commonly known: Arden Club. Often Renshaw appears in programs for the Arden Club during her time at SMU, even after she seemingly had graduated-conjectured by her graduation photo in the rotunda of 1922.

Despite graduating, Edythe Renshaw continued working with, not only her many clubs at SMU, including, but not limited to: the honorary scholarship chapter Alpha Theta Phi, the literary club, the poetry club, and the Zeta Phi Eta chapter. Additionally, Edythe held the position of sorores in facilitate along with Mary McCord for the chapter Zeta Phi Eta for many consecutive years. This may give one reason to believe that Mary McCord’s firmly established relationship with Edythe Renshaw gave her much more reason to appoint her as an assistant to the director in the 1924-1925 season. This is not to say Renshaw was undeserving due to any prior favoritism; Renshaw proved herself entirely capable of the task given that at one point in time Edythe was the president of both the Literary Club and a club called “The Makers” simultaneously.

The appointment of this position held great significance given it was the first documented occurrence of Mary McCord turning over a portion of her responsibilities as director to another. Edythe Renshaw showed her qualifications as an actor in not only having been previously praised for her acting in “The Whiteheaded Boy,” but more notably, her behavior during the fire that began the Arden Club’s season. In the midst of her performance, Renshaw stepped off stage when panic began to arise and whilst “remaining conscious of behaving in the best theatrical tradition [Edythe] directed the audience to remain calm and pass from the auditorium in an orderly manner (p. 75).”  Edythe rose above and beyond what qualified an individual to lead the Arden Club long before she was instated as a co-director, nonetheless, the director. Following her appointment as co-director, Edythe Renshaw appeared less and less as a member of the Arden Club and more so as a contributor in the production of the play as a whole.

Edythe Renshaw continued appearing within the Arden Club archives as an assistant of sorts for many years until 1937 in which she solely produced, directed, and designed the play “Life and Death of King Richard the 2nd.” This laid the groundwork for her, eventually, taking over the Arden Club entirely in place of Mary McCord. A less commonly known achievement, but immensely important, of Edythe is that she herself is the main contributor to the Mary McCord/Edythe Renshaw Collection. Edythe held on to a large variety of documents, programs as well as the very “Minutes” that Hallie Overstreet wrote.

Hallie Overstreet and Edythe Renshaw exemplify a stark comparison in the significance of documentation-whether it be done personally or by preservation. Unbeknownst to both women, they would be responsible for any further study conducted on their lives in the future. Despite Edythe Renshaw being more colloquially known amongst the Arden Club admirers, Hallie Overstreet’s meticulous, and at times-admittedly-nearly indiscernible documentation of even the most seemingly trivial details of the Arden Club would have a lasting importance. Although the Arden Club no longer has the recognition it once had on the campus of Southern Methodist University, on account of contributors like Edythe and Hallie, the history and significance of the Arden Club can, and will, be immortalized.

Megan Meredith and Alex Wishnick