May 17, 2013
Barclay Leathem and the National Theatre Conference
Barclay S. Leathem began teaching in the English Department at Western Reserve University (WRU) in 1921 while a law student. (He received his law degree in 1924.) He moved to the Speech Department in 1927 to teach the first theatre classes at WRU.
Barclay Leathem in the classroom, Western Reserve University, ca.1940
In 1931 Leathem became head of the Dramatic Arts Department in the Graduate School when the graduate program in Drama and Theatre was established. Leathem, Frederic McConnell, and Arthur White (WRU faculty member) had proposed this new graduate program -- a joint program between WRU and the Cleveland Play House.
With McConnell, Leathem was involved in the work of the National Theatre Conference (NTC). The NTC office was housed on the WRU campus beginning in 1937. Leathem served as Executive Secretary 1938-1959. In 1940 he traveled across the country visiting colleges and community theaters. An account of Leathem's trip is covered in the October 1940 issue of the NTC Quarterly Bulletin.
Leathem also served as chairman of the investigation of royalties and play releases. The hope was to make better plays available for amateurs and to educate public school teachers to their use. He also oversaw several projects for the NTC, including the playwriting competition for GIs, the Tryout Studio where new graduates of university and theatre programs would perform before agents and others, the Bulletin quarterly publication, and the play lists for shows performed in army camps during World War II.
Special thanks to Helen Conger, Archivist, Scholarly Resources & Special Collections, Kelvin Smith Library, for creating the content for this post.
For more information about the Cleveland Play House Archives contact the Kelvin Smith Library Special Collections.
April 26, 2013
Frederic McConnell and the National Theatre Conference
The post-World War I era saw a number of significant changes in the national professional theatre dynamic, most notably the end of road company empires, the rise of motion pictures, and the collapse of the big stock companies. At the same time came the rise of the non-commercial theatre in cities big and small and the development of theatre studies at the university level. Together, these changes ended the traditional relationships between playwrights, agents, and American theatres by the mid-1920’s.
The organizers of the National Theatre Conference (NTC) stepped into this changing scene in hopes of protecting and developing the interests of non-commercial theatres. Conceived among the faculty and graduates of nascent university theatre programs and strengthened by the rising power of the little theatre movement, the NTC began working as a small group of volunteers who shared their knowledge and experience with colleagues who had traditionally looked to New York for every cue. Their core concept of developing professionalism on a peer-to-peer basis revolutionized the world of not for profit theatre and ultimately helped insured the success of the movement.
As a graduate of Carnegie Tech, one of the earliest theatre education programs in the country, and with a national reputation based on his successful administration of the Cleveland Play House, Frederic McConnell represented the new breed of theatre professionals driving the NTC. He took early leadership roles in the group and from his address to the first conference attendees in 1925 though his retirement from the Play House in 1958, McConnell helped steer the NTC toward achieving it’s goals.
Organized on a regional plan, the NTC divided the country into several sections, each represented by a regional director. Without pay, these individuals agreed to provided a consistent level of support, advice and professional development to small theatres in such complex areas as negotiations for production rights and royalties and securing plays for production. Promoting development of new plays and identifying new sources of playwriting talent came under the regional directors prevue as well. The NTC filled an urgent need for professional literature in the field with an aggressive publishing program and regional directors worked as liaisons in commissioning or reprinting works by trusted authors on all phases of theatre work and supporting the development of theatre libraries. Lastly, the NTC, through the efforts of its regional directors, maintained and made available employment registers, business directories of reliable resources for theatre equipment and standards for theatre architecture.
Through McConnell’s devotion to the NTC, the Cleveland Play House became the regional center for the exchange of knowledge, experience and resources in non-commercial theatres as well as the growing number of theatre programs at the university level. Early funding for the NTC came from foundation grants, which were administered from rent-free offices in New York; resources that dwindled as the depression deepened throughout the 1930’s. Through the generosity of Western Reserve University [a CWRU predecessor institution], the NTC took up residence on campus at no cost and with considerable support from faculty member Barclay Leathem who worked in tandem with McConnell for many years to put the finances, products and services of the NTC to good use in the theatre community.
March 30, 2013
Natural Science Highlights: Perry's Conchology
The rare book holdings include one of the most beautiful color seashell books ever published, Conchology, or, The natural history of shells, by George Perry, which appeared in 1811. In the opening paragraph of his Introduction he states: "The study of Shells or testaceous animals, is a branch of natural history which, although not greatly useful to the mechanical arts, or the human economy, is nevertheless, by the beauty of the subjects it comprises, most admirably adapted to recreate the senses, to improve the taste or invention of the Artist, and, finally and insensibly, to lead to the contemplation of the great excellence and wisdom of the Divinity in their formation." The introduction which also explains the arrangement of the work into two sections, univalves and bivalves, is followed by sixty-one exquisite, hand colored aquatint plates. The plates are signed as being published by William Miller, a prominent Scottish line-engraver who was best known in his day for his reproductions of the works of J.M.W. Turner. In the introduction credit for the original drawings and engravings is given to a Mr. John Clarke. It is very likely that the work was done by George Perry, who was a skilled artist, and others who were less skilled than he was. Antiquarian booksellers relate that Perry's Conchology is the only seashell book with aquatint illustrations but another has been identified. The work was printed at London by William Bulmer, one of the best printers of the time, who strove to improve the standards of English typography.
Although Perry was a distinguished English naturalist, the work was criticized during his lifetime for its use of vibrant pastel colors and shell forms that were not always true to life. His choice of nomenclature was also criticized but many of the generic and specific names he used are now accepted and used today.
Perry's text was based on the work of Linnaeus and the Frenchmen Jean Guillaume Bruguière, a zoologist whose main interest was snails and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, who wrote a major work on the classification of invertebrates. The plates illustrate specimens from Australia, New Zealand, the South Seas, Pacific Ocean and Tahiti. Many of the shells that appear in the illustrations formed part of the collections of private individuals. It is thought that some of the shells were from a collection that belonged to Elizabeth Bligh, whose husband was William Bligh, captain of the Bounty when its crew carried out its famous mutiny in 1789.
This monumental work comes to the rare book collection from the library of Dr. Jared P. Kirtland (1793-1877). Kirtland was a physician and naturalist who was born in Connecticut and moved to Ohio in 1823. He founded the first scientific organization in Cleveland, the Cleveland Academy of Natural Sciences, which was formally established in 1845. This Academy was the forerunner of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Kirtland's contributions also include his establishment of the Cleveland Medical College which became the Western Reserve University School of Medicine.
For more on the Conchology see
George Perry's molluscan taxa and notes on the editions of his Conchology of 1811 by Richard E. Petit
For more information about the copy held by the Department of Special Collections at the Kelvin Smith Library contact us at 216-368-0189.
Plate 25: Conus
March 18, 2013
The Women's Committee of the Cleveland Play House
The Women’s Committee of the Cleveland Play House was founded to further the interests of the Play House, initially serving as liaison between the theatre and the public. The first Women’s Committee meeting was held in the Brooks Theatre in May 1932 at the request of the Board of Trustees. At that time several committees were formed to assist Play House personnel in the areas of subscription sales, promotional and social events.
These early assignments quickly expanded to encompass twenty-one committees devoted to such tasks as event coordination, ushering, children’s theatre efforts, marketing campaigns and major fundraising drives which essentially relieved the Play House of the expense of administrative staff in the hard times of the 1930’s. Their stated goal was “To assist in every way possible in any way help was needed” which resulted in the cultivation of a dedicated and multi-talented volunteer work force supporting every operation of the theatre for eighty years.
Fundraising was an important function of the Women’s Committee and their aim was to have fun doing it. Planning and executing countless luncheons, balls, benefit performances, fashion shows, comedy revues, gift shops, tours and commemorative publications over the lifespan of the committee raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to aid the theatre and spread good will throughout the community. Over time, the group laid the foundation for a Men’s Committee to broaden the volunteer base among Play House members. Perhaps best known for establishing and managing the Play House Club in the 1960’s, the Men’s Committee also engaged in a wide array of projects designed to support the Play House.
Men's Committee social event invitation.
In October 2012, membership of the Women’s Committee closed the first chapter of their history with the Play House by organizing one last luncheon, the proceeds of which were combined with the balance of their treasury to create the Women’s Committee of The Cleveland Play House Endowment Fund.
Contact Special Collections for details about our current exhibit of Cleveland Play House Archives material.