The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.
Page  1864

THE JUNIOR GIRLS' PLAY

THE Junior Girls' Play, presented annually by women students, developed from an informal entertainment into a full-length musical comedy. For more than fifty years the play has been a campus tradition, symbolic of college life and friendships, and its performances have highlighted the junior year for thousands of participants. The first Junior Girls' Play, on April 11, 1904, comprised a series of sketches on the "College Career of Buster Brown," a take-off on "seniority." Men's costumes were largely from Dean Jordan's husband's wardrobe. Presented in Sarah Caswell Angell Hall in Barbour Gymnasium, the performance was part of the entertainment at the annual party given by the junior women in honor of the graduating seniors. Only a handful of juniors took part in the play itself. The next year (1905) "Every Senior," an original morality play, was given, followed by "Alice in Seniorland" (1906), and "Don Quixote, the Coed Knight" (1907), which was written by Elinor Demmon Tealdi. All of these plays were parodies of familiar classical books. In 1908 two playlets were presented: "Coedenda" and "Michiguse," a parody on "Michigenda," the first Union Opera, which had been produced earlier in the same year.

From 1909 to 1920 an additional performance of the Junior Girls' Play was given for those attending the annual Women's Banquet, sponsored by the Women's League and the Collegiate Alumnae. (The first performance has always been presented exclusively for the senior women.) During this period the play came to be closely tied to the activity program of the Women's League. "Eds and Co," given in 1909, was a look into the University life of the year 1950. "Martiagan," in 1910, included clever imitations of certain popular members of the faculty. The 1911 play was a Mother Goose farce. In 1912 the present form of a complete musical comedy was initiated. "In Old Bagdad" was written by two junior women, and, for the first time, the music for the Junior Girls' Play was composed by a man — Earl V. Moore ('12), now Dean of the School of Music. The 1913 Junior Girls' Play took the form of two playlets, "The Realm of Dreams" and "Daily Life," in which abundant opportunity was found for the customary jokes on the seniors. "The Treasure of Toule" was staged in 1914, with Moore directing the orchestra.

Several important changes marked the 1915 production, "The Comeback." An orchestra of University women provided the music for the play, the first of a series of ten Junior Girls' Plays directed by Professor John L. Brumm of the Department of Journalism. For the first time also, the "male" lead was allowed to wear a real tuxedo. A performance was given in Toledo, at that time the longest trip taken by a Junior Girls' Play cast.

"The Yankee Yogi" was presented in 1916. The second performance was "open to the public," which meant that, for the first time, men were permitted to attend. It had been planned to repeat the play after the Women's Banquet, but because of the announcement of President Angell's death, the performance was postponed until the following week. It was also given later in Detroit under the auspices of the Detroit Association of University of Michigan Women.

The 1917 play, "Felicia Finesses" was a satire on college men. It met with decided success, as did "Meddling with Mars" (1918). Beginning in 1919, the play was staged in the local Whitney Page  1865Theater. In accordance with tradition, the senior women, donning their caps and gowns for the first time, met for the Senior Supper and marched in a body to the Whitney Theater to see "Gold," a musical allegory. The performance received the following accolade from Professor Louis A. Strauss, Chairman of the Committee on Student Affairs:

The Junior Girls' Play, an institution much older than the Union Opera, was especially noteworthy this year. With the handicap of a far smaller field of talent to draw from, and under the necessity of rigid economy in production the Junior Play in some respects puts the Opera to shame. It is written, composed, and presented exclusively by the girls of the junior class, under the direction of a member of the faculty. Given in compliment to the Senior Girls, and restricted in attendance to the alumnae and women students, it is assured of a sympathetic audience …

The annual play is characterized by a freshness of motivation and a boldness and delicacy of fancy that we seek in vain in the Union Opera. From this it must not be supposed that the play is academic or highbrow. It has abundance of local color, sparkle of fun, dancing, and diverting comedy. But the whole has a savor of thorough-going dedication to an enterprise above the common, and it loses nothing in zest by its remotness from the ordinary. When the women of the University hold their revels, they do not forget that they are University women."


(MS, "Report of the Committee on Student Affairs," 1918-19.)

During the 1920's there was such interest in the project that it became increasingly difficult to eliminate tryouts; different girls were selected to make up each dancing and singing chorus. This was also the period when the campaign for funds for the Michigan League Building gained impetus. Large contributions were made from the profits of the Junior Girls' Play "Patricia Passes" (1920). "Selina Sue" (1921) and "Scepters and Serenades" (1922) were highly successful, both artistically and financially.

As the play increased in popularity and the staging became more polished, requests increased to open the performance to the public. With the exception of the 1916 play and the out-of-town showings, the audience was still restricted to women students and alumnae. Each year requests were presented to the Committee on Student Affairs asking permission for the men to attend. The committee, however, argued that "opening the play to the public would change its character as a social institution on the Campus, modify its standards, and impair one of the most distinctive features of University life at Michigan …" (Mich. Alum., 28 [1921-22]: 742).

After the 1922 performance, the entire cast signed a petition asking to give a public performance for the benefit of the Michigan League. When the petition was denied, a resolution was passed at an impromptu mass meeting of more than two hundred University women, demanding to know whether women had been admitted with the full rights granted to the men or with special restrictions. As a result, in 1923, four performances were given of "Jane Climbs a Mountain" — the twentieth annual Junior Girls' Play and the first of a long series to be viewed by the entire campus.

Six performances were given of "Thank You, Madam" (1924), which set a record with 150 in the cast. Amy Loomis ('22) directed "Castles in Spain" (1925) and "Becky Behave" (1926). For the first time in many years, "Eight 'Til Eight" (1927) was directed by one of the junior women — Phyllis Loughton ('28), and a special performance was given in Orchestra Hall in Detroit. Minna Miller served as director of "For the Love of Pete" (1928), a satire on intellectualism contrasted with intelligence. In 1929 the Page  1866final play presented in the Whitney Theater was "Forward March, a Musical Travesty on War and Women."

The activity before production was an important factor in the success of each play. Work really began in the fall when the book was written. Casting was done before Christmas, and rehearsals started immediately after the first of the year. Committees were elected to construct scenery, apply make-up, and prepare costumes:

Perhaps … the first night audience, which consisted mostly of the women of the Senior Class, was the only one of the week which thoroughly appreciated how much of an accomplishment was represented by that smooth rising of the first curtain. To the average theater-goer it meant nothing more than another event added to the long list of campus dramatic offerings; but to the Senior girls who had been through the mill it meant the culmination of eleven weeks of intense work, annoying disappointments, obstacles overcome — and the between semesters holiday sacrificed to the cause.


(Mich. Alum., 30[1923-24]: 693-94.)

The year 1930 began a new era in the history of the Junior Girls' Play. Since then all Ann Arbor performances have been given in the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater in the Michigan League Building. A more limited scale of production reflected the economic depression of that period.

"State Street," the first play presented in the new building, with Amy Loomis as director, was received enthusiastically. The following years brought "Came the Dawn" (1931), "No Man's Land" (1932), "Love on the Run" (1933), "Gangs All There" (1934), and "Tune in on Love" (1935). In 1936 the Central Committee authored "Sprize." The next year, an all-campus competition was closed when "Feather in His Cap" was chosen as the 1937 Junior Girls' Play. The 1938 play was "The Mulberry Bush," a mythical comedy; this was the first and only year that men appeared in the cast. "Pig-in-the-Poke" (1939), "HiFalutin'" (1940), and "Jumping Jupiter" (1941) were all highly successful. The directors included Amy G. Loomis, Harriet Brazier, Russel McCracken, Sarah Pierce, and Richard McElvey.

The years during World War II were filled with radical changes. In 1942 an extra performance of "No Questions Asked," a musical revue, was presented at Fort Custer. In the next two years the play was not given; the juniors sold war bonds and stamps as their class project. Skits were presented at a Junior-Senior Stunt Night in 1943, but even the Senior Supper was discontinued in 1944. This has been the only break in the continuity of the performances.

In 1945 the Junior Girls' Play was back on the boards with "Take It from There." "There's Room for All" (1946) was a satire on the housing problem, and the plot of "The Best Years" (1947) included a view of each era since the admission of Madelon Stockwell to the University in 1870. "Make Mine Michigan" (1948) was a campus satire, while "Fate of the Union" (1949) predicted the future. In 1950 "The Real McCoy" was straight from the hills; "It's the Payoff" was presented in 1951. Each year a junior woman was chosen to serve as director.

Of recent years the plot has included fewer male characters, until by 1957 there were no parts where girls had to dress and act as men. "Heavenly Daze" (1952), "Vanity Flair" (1953), "Tickled Pink" (1954), "Cock-a-Hoop" (1955), "Rising High" (1956), and "Live It Up" (1957) comprise the remaining shows. The last play had a professional director, Theodore Heusel, as well as a student director. Each Junior Girls' Play has tried to outdo the others in catchy tunes, smooth production, and ticket sales.

Page  1867The work of producing the Junior Girls' Play is a year-long process. The Central Committee is chosen by the League Interviewing and Nominating Committee in the spring. The committee chairmen begin work on a scenario immediately, and the author must complete the script over the summer. In the fall the junior women sign up with the committees on which they would like to serve; scenery is planned and constructed; costumes are designed; publicity releases scheduled, and posters drawn. Cast tryouts are held after the intersession; even when a professional director supervises the production, there is also a student director who gains practical experience. A student treasurer, working closely with the social director of the Women's League, supervises budgets and expenditures. Five weeks of rehearsal lead to the culmination — the rising curtain. Although four performances are given each spring, it is still opening night — Senior Night — which gives the greatest meaning to the Junior Girls' Play.