The History of the Department
The History by Hugh W. Gillis (1962) and Robert Jenkins (1999)
with contributions from the Alumni of the Department particularly Dorothy Somerville, John Wulzen, Evelyn McCurdy-Sivier, Wayne Mitchell, Lee Kopp, Brian Conroy, Martin Kachuck, and Beth Angood.Thanks also to Professor Mike Adams for his history of KSJS FM 90.5, Professor Emeritus Kenneth Dorst for his memories of fires, floods, and other disasters, and to Estelle Greathead who captured many of the facts and much of the flavor of the early days of San Jose State University in her book, The Story of an Inspiring Past. Copyright March 1999.
This is a rough draft of the one hundred year history of dramatic entertainment and education on the San Jose State University Campus. The institution itself has undergone several name changes during this century: The San Jose Normal School, The San Jose Teachers College, San Jose State College, and, most recently, San Jose State University. The primary focus of this draft is the first sixty years (roughly from 1889 to 1960) of theatre production and curriculum at "State."
Club Dramas and Society Plays
By the end of the 19th Century several faculty-sponsored clubs on the San Jose Normal School campus were devoted to study of speech and drama, particularly the Sappho Society, Erosophian Society, Shakespearean Club, Young Men's Normal Debating Society, and the Allen Rhetorical Society. The extracurricular dramatic production activities of these societies and clubs preceded formal curricular training, and, in part, justified it. Any history of play production, theatrical entertainment, and even film production, must begin with a record of these dramatic activities on the college campus. During the first two decades of this century, the level of extracurricular dramatic activity was unequaled by any other area of the college--including athletics.
The First Play
The theatrical activities of the early decades (1898-1927) often took the form of dramatic readings, variety shows, pageants for special occasions, or a series of "acts" presented by the societies. The first recorded evidence we have found of a specific play produced was of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream staged on campus by the Sappho Society in 1898 or 1899. The Sappho Society, which evolved into the Kappa Alpha Theta Sorority, was a social club devoted to the study of literature and art. Organized in 1898, it produced a version of Midsummer as one of its first activities. Inconclusive dating of the production places it in 1898 or, more likely, 1899. It is this production that begins our history of live drama, and eventually the electronic and film arts at San Jose State University.
From the June, 1899 Normal Pennant (p. 9):
p.9 The Sappho club gave "Midsummer Night's Dream." A pleasant feature of the term's work is to be the entertainment . . . on Friday evening, June 9th, in Normal Hall. The clever and amusing farce is being rehearsed for the occasion. The admission is fifteen cents, and all are welcome.
The Show Goes On
A second literary society, the Erosophian, which would later become Alphi Phi Sorority, produced Shakespeare's As You Like It in 1906. This society drama was probably the first campus production to achieve significant visibility. A few days before the play was to be presented, the Great Earthquake of 1906 devastated the campus and destroyed many of the buildings, including the building in which the performance was to be given.
Estelle Greathead, at that time a member of the Erosophians, writes:
The Erosophian Literary Society was organized in the spring of 1900. Early in 1906, the society decided they would give "As You Like It" on the lawn as part of Commencement week festivities. Then came the earthquake! We were without a building. All activities stopped. Classes were held in the Training School building. We were terribly crowded. Some classes were held on the lawn. We gave up the idea of giving "As You Like It." There was no place to practice, and we had no heart for it if there had been. But President Dailey insisted that all activities go on as usual in order to keep up the morale of the school. To please him we decided to go on with the play. The rehearsals took place in the back yard of my home, 435 South Second Street. A stage was erected on the lawn a week before the play was to be given. Finally, "As You Like It" was twice successfully given, in spite of the fact that the electricity went off during the evening performance. Professor Wilson finally got it going again. One of my treasures is a picture of the players in costume. (p75-76)
A Chronology of the First Two Decades of Plays, Societies, and Directors*
1989 Midsummer Night's Dream Sappho Society director unknown
1900 Who is Who or All in a Fog unknown Miss Daniels
1902 Mock Trial unknown minstrel show
1903 Trying It On unknown Gertrude Payne
1904 A Mislaid Proposal unknown director unknown
1905 An Evening with a Missionary unknown director unknown
1906 As You Like It Erosophian Society director unknown
1907 Tommy's Wife Dramatic Club first production
1908 none recorded
1909 Going to Mauro Normal Dramatic Miss Larson
1910 Sleeping Beauty Dramatic Society director unknown
1911 Tyrolean Queen Dramatic Society director unknown
1912 The Fairy Shoemaker Dramatic Society Gertrude Payne
1912 Merchant of Venice Dramatic Society Miss Davis
1912 A Christmas Carol Dramatic Society Henry M. Bland
1913 In the Vanguard Dramatics Society director unknown
1914 Grasshopper and the Ant Senior Class Miss Bradley
1915 Follies of the Fair** Men's Glee Club director unknown
1915 Miss Fearless and Company unknown Miss Miller
1916 Stubbornness of Geraldine unknown director unknown
1916 History of California unknown benefit pageant
1917 none recorded (some one acts)
1918 The Pioneer Senior Class pageant
1919 A Vaudeville Show unknown director unknown
1919 CALIFORNIA Senior Class Miss Wood
* After 1917 hundreds of productions are listed in the Departmental Booklet called Drama Productions 1898-1962 and in the Appendix of Hugh W. Gillis' Speech and Drama at San Jose State College
** "as the first big gun in the campaign for a men's rest room."
The Drama Society Takes Over
The literary societies soon gave way to clubs specifically devoted to dramatic production, and in 1909 the first Normal Dramatic Society was established under the leadership of Miss Florence Larson with a membership of thirty, including six men. In the first year the club produced three one-acts. One of these, Going to Mauro, was staged by divided the club into three sections and repeating the play in three styles. The following year the club changed its name to the Dramatic Society. Larson was succeeded by English Instructor Gertrude Payne, and Payne by Dr. Henry Meade Bland. In 1912, under Bland's supervision, a year-long project was begun to select and produce a grand Christmas production chosen from "Greek, Mission, Shakespeare, or Dickens plays." In the final decision, the choice was Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol--with tableaux and dialogue.
Estelle Greathead writes:
A Dramatic Society functioned intermittently at various periods of the school's history. In 1912 the society presented some Shakespearean drama--modernized. In 1921 it took on new life , was called The Masque and Key, and presented some creditable dramas. Dramatic productions have always played a large part in the life of the school, but have not always been the output of the Dramatic Society, which for one reason or another has not until recently stood on a solid fundamental basis.
In the SNS Yearbook, an exuberant "Mamie" pens what is possibly the first drama review on campus in June, 1912:
A dramatic society was organized last September under the leadership of Letitia Bernhardt--you remember her, do you not? Much interest was taken by both students and faculty in the organization. Miss Payne, Miss Bradley, and Miss McKenzie kindly consented to supervise the various undertakings. Though a great deal has been accomplished, so they tell me, within the society, no production has been placed before the school. Excellent things, however, are being planned for us next term. Perhaps you know some of the officers, President, Vera Silvey; Vice-President, Gertrude Pyle; Secretary, Grace Sanbourn; Treasurer, Eliza Wright; Reporter, Hazel Clayton; Sergeant at Arms, Myrtle Loughridge.
The alumni gave a ripping good vaudeville in the evening. It's really surprising the amount of talent that SJNS people, past and present, possess! They can't be beaten! I don't care if you are going to a different school, Betsy, I simply can't help telling the truth.
Your Loving, Mamie."
The Dramatic Society became temporarily defunct in 1914 because of "no help from students," but was revived the following year, holding open tryouts. The revival was due to the greatly welcomed return of Gertrude Payne who had been on Sabbatical leave for a year at the Boston School of Expression for additional study. Nevertheless, there appears to be a gap of some years (the WWI years) when no organization existed. In 1921 the club was reactivated and presented a series of skits and an "entertainment" in honor of a group of visitors from Chico State. In 1922 the club again changed its name, this time to Masque and Key, and produced Green Stockings, under the direction of Miss O'Rourke. This was the first major production to be played on the newly-built stage in Morris Dailey Auditorium.
Virginia Sanderson (about whom much more will be said later) joined the English Department faculty in 1922 and became faculty leader of Masque and Key. "Dramatics now has a dramatic coach. Miss Sanders <sic> the new public speaking teacher is right in touch with everything that is new in the line of play production" stated the student newspaper. Sanderson promised a major production every term from Masque and Key..
In April 1924 the organization's name was, once again, changed, this time to the San Jose Players, a title which it carried for more than fifty years until its dissolution in the late 1980's. Masque and Key was a title reserved for an honorary group within the Players. The Players group organized with ten charter members. Membership was open to all students through written or oral tryouts in lighting, costuming, stagecraft, dramatic dancing, pantomime, dramatic music, and stage direction. By 1928 over 200 students had gained membership with only seven being dropped as "deadwood." The first Players production, in 1924, was Constance Smedley's short play, Belle and Beau.
Weekly Players meetings were held with mandatory attendance. Two unexcused absences was cause for automatic dismissal with reinstatement possible only through re-tryout. The group was enthusiastic and included most of the leaders in College life, student body officers and athletes not excepted. Great formality surrounded the gaining of membership (names of successful tryoutees were kept rigidly secret until announced to the individuals by telegram!); an impressive initiation ceremony conferred "pledgeship" which continued for one year; a further ceremony conferred full membership.
From the College newspaper during the 1920's:
It's a wonder that the San Jose Players have not suffered a great dearth of leading men or a walkout of the few good ones in the dramatic organization. Surely, if many more plays are produced which bear in the title such uncomplimentary and derogatory allusions as The Fool, The Scarecrow, or The Poor Nut, such a strike may occur among title role players. To save the situation the Players should produce, say, The Emperor Jones or the Demi-God. However I anticipate something more like The Old Soak and The Showoff.
During the year 1925-26 Viola Mae Powell acted as advisor and coach while Virginia Sanderson studied in Europe. Upon her return, Sanderson regained the reins until 1930 when Hugh W. Gillis became faculty advisor.
The First College Film
A Players project, somewhat pioneering in nature, was the making of a film in the summer of 1929. A sum of money had been inherited by one of the Players who was interested in this particular dramatic medium, and about twenty-five Players went "on location" for three weeks and produced a Western called Galleon Gold. This film was shown not only on campus but in a downtown theatre and soon earned more than its cost. Surely this film has to be among the first college movies ever made. More research to substantiate this claim is in order.
The Department Takes Control
Since its inception as the Normal School Dramatic Society in 1909, Players had functioned as the actual producer of most campus dramatic events, operating as an autonomous entity with control over its own budget. In 1932, after almost a quarter of a century of production, control of finances and production operations was removed from Players and fundamentally changed the structure and purpose of the group. The Department, with the urging of Hugh Gillis, assumed control of planning and executing a season of plays. The Players group continued, occasionally staging its own productions, but mostly contenting itself with theatre trips, bringing in guest speakers, giving awards, providing membership and honors to students who have shown "consistent activity of a superior quality in dramatic production." The most important function of the group during its long history was to give a sense of continuity to the dramatic production work which stretched unbroken for the seventy years of Players existence. Players officially dissolved in 1989 when Players President Ron Goswick liquidated the treasury and presented a check for $1100 to the Department Scholarship portfolio. These funds were used to fund the Richard Parks Award for Outstanding Graduating Senior.
Other dramatic clubs, none now in existence, rose and faded away. In the first half of the century the groups included Theatron, Playreaders, the Radio Guild, and the Children's Theatre Association. Theatron, organized in 1934, carried on the honorary duties of Masque and Key which it replaced. Playreaders, a radio drama club, existed from 1934 until 1936. The Children's Theatre Association helped reinstate Children's Theatre productions into the season from 1956-1958. Radio Guild was organized in 1939 under the supervision of William McCoard and Dorothy Kaucher. In 1953 the Radio Guild was reorganized as the Radio Television Guild with an avowed aim to promote professional standards in campus radio and television broadcasting. This Guild continued until at least 1962.
There were periodic attempts to organize the majors and minors into social groups. Such attempts proved futile. In October of 1931, Dorothy Kaucher organized Oral Interpretation students for the purpose of "becoming better acquainted with each other" and to meet on Tuesday afternoons for "refreshments and tea." The club was dropped the following year. In the late 1940s a second attempt was made, and, again, abandoned after a year. An Awards Night was held annually to give citations to students for meritorious work for three years, 1958 to 1961, and then abandoned.
In the last decades of the century, GIG (the Gallivanting Inspiration Group about which much more will be written later) produced eleven major touring productions from 1976-1982 under the direction of Robert Jenkins; during the early 1990's AIM (Artists in Minority) focused on diversity in theatre and to the philosophy the all artists in modern America were "disadvantaged minorities," Contravention was a small student-led group which hoped to produce alternative and radical plays during the mid-1990s; Comedy Porn was a short-lived improv group in 1997. The most consistent group in the last years of the 20th century was STEP (the School Touring Ensemble Program). Under the direction of Professor Buddy Butler, STEP produced a number of plays for both campus and touring performances. Particularly successful were productions of King: A Man and His Dream, The Odyssey, and Los Vendidos.
Revelries and Pageants
As early as 1909 extensive variety shows were being presented on Friday nights throughout October and November, each of the many campus societies presenting a series of "acts." Through the first half of the century, these shows developed into an annual campus event called "Revelries" and later "Spartan Revelries." These society shows included dramatic sketches along with song and dance numbers and had come to be considered the "property" of the societies. In 1930, however, recently hired Hugh Gillis in the new Speech Arts Department took over the event, wrote and directed the first integrated musical show, Jazzmania, built around college life.
By the mid-1920's the production of pageants had become quite formalized and reached a height of polish in The Nightingale and the Rose (May, 1926) which included drama, dance, and a cast of one thousand eight hundred college students and children under the direction of Viola Mae Powell. It was performed out doors in the quad as part of the civic celebration "fiesta de las rosas." In 1928 even this elaborates was surpassed with a gigantic presentation of Josephine Preston Peabody's The Piper in which size was so great that the quad could not hold both the setting and an audience and the production was staged on the front lawns and occupied an area of "some acres." This production was staged "ablaze with color, athrob with romance, and vibrant with symbolism (Greathead)" by Virginia Sanderson, newly ensconced as the Head of the infant Speech Arts Department. Three years later Hugh Gillis continued the tradition (and the Department take-over) of the pageants with Alice in Wonderland on the South Lawn in celebration of Homecoming. The only later production that took on the size and color of these earl-century spectacles was Rose of the Rancho expanded beyond even Belasco's vision and staged in 1949 in the Inner Quad under the direction of James Clancy. (Aside from its spectacle, the outstanding memory of this production is the insistence of two hoot-owls, inhabitants of the tower, which, from the vantage point of a nearby pine, joined in every musical solo.)
Evelyn McCurdy-Sivier remembers Rose:
My part was small and did not require my attendance at every rehearsal. The fact that Dr. Clancy was to be director came as a surprise to all of us. We were used to his preference for the heavier classics. We had a very large cast and were not surprised to hear a few pencils breaking. He was in the habit of using this quiet method of venting his frustration when people did not follow direction. As usual, however, he put everything together and ended up with a magical night in a beautiful setting.
Wendell Johnson outdid himself in that corner of the quad. Colorful tapestries on the tall walls. Lovely and authentic costumes and music. I had a small part as the proverbial chaperone which was fun. We probably had every major in the department in that show. Revelry was in the air, and both the audience and cast felt it.
Drama and Play Production in the Normal School Curriculum
Of all of the course titles still offered in 1999 as regular components of the Theatre Arts curriculum, the first and oldest is Storytelling. Mention of Storytelling as a specific technique of dramatic interpretation first appeared in 1911, taught by Miss Mackenzie in the professional Education curriculum. A newspaper announcement headlines: Storytelling Holds High Rank in America--Increasing Demand For Teachers in this Branch--San Jose Normal Offers Excellent Course. Dramatic Arts was a class also offered in Education about the same time.
Prior to 1927, most of the coursework in drama was offered by the English Department. The first English course offering was indicated in the Bulletin of 1918-1919, an "optional course in repertoire and dramatics" taught by Gertrude Payne. She continued to teach this course until her resignation in 1921. Virginia Sanderson joined the English faculty in the Fall of 1922 to teach a one-term Play Production and one term-Modern Drama class.
The Department is Formed
In 1927, Dr. MacQuarrie, the 16th President, expressed his immediate desire to have a Little Theatre and formed the Speech Arts Department, the ninth of the College's specialized curricula leading to the A.B. degree, under the leadership of two interested English Department instructors, Clara Kuck, and Virginia Sanderson. The initial enrollment was 24 students in the major.
Estelle Greathead (p.51) writes:
Four new departments are to be established in September, 1928 . . .
Speech and Stage Craft. This department is not actually new, as voice training, public speaking, and all the multitude of details which naturally group themselves about oral expresssion have been a part of the training in this institution since it's inception, but dramatic study and stage craft have not been greatly emphasized except in an incidental way, and with the increasing development of the dramatic art, this course opens up a field which stretches far and wide and is rich with possibilities.
Virginia Soames Sanderson was named head of the new Department. One of the inaugural classes Sanderson offered was "The Theatre and School" designed for the training of play directors in public schools ("After a brief study of the theatre, the choice of plays, organization, casting, and methods of rehearsal are considered.") This class, first offered in 1927-28, would eventually evolve into Children's Theatre. Her major one-term course, Play Production, was eventually subdivided into various specialized offerings: Scene Design, Construction, and Lighting. Her major one-term course, Modern Drama, was retitled Theatre Backgrounds, which later evolved into Development of Drama, History of the Theatre, and Entertainment Arts.
Sanderson, a scholarly, dynamic, talented administrator-teacher, was the major influence on the early years of the Department. She became President of the Drama Teachers of California and editor of Theatre and School. Winning the Henicke Taussig award in Dramatic Art she studied at Oxford, Medgye's School of Theatre in Paris, and at the Sorbonne. She served as visiting professor at U.C. Berkeley and at the Berkeley School of the Theatre.
Equally important was Sanderson's personality and philosophy, which in the first period of the Department left an indelible impression "which has not disappeared in thirty-five years <1962>." A fluent and commanding speaker, she devoted much of her energy to "selling" her program. A scholarly and demanding teacher, she aroused a respect and admiration in students and colleagues alike that amounted almost to worship. A talented writer, she published plays (Long Ago in Judea, Judas Iscariot, etc.) a volume of poetry titled Pot-Pourri, a novel God Writes a Book, many scholarly articles, and, though it is not common knowledge, she sold many stories to "pulps," including Westerns, love stories, etc. always under a pen-name! The training and talents of this remarkable woman were fortunately available to the Department in its birth and infancy. It would never have developed in the same way without her influence, and probably never as well. Under Sanderson's leadership, the enlarging Department soon added (1928) Dramatization and Creative Dramatics, Stagecraft, and Shakespeare for School Players.
In the earliest years of the Department, four or five faculty members carried all of the activities--most of which were more extensive as at present (1999). For example, Virginia Sanderson served as Head of the Department, taught four classes (twelve hours), directed the Verse Speaking Choir, directed and produced five of the six plays of the season, supervised the direction of many one-acts, designed and supervised the construction of the scenery, supervised student teaching, and fulfilled many speaking and writing commitments.
Sanderson's co-founder Clara Kuck developed a clear relationship between the offerings of oral reading, voice-speech training, and acting. In 1928, Elizabeth Jenks joined the faculty, and two years later in 1930, Dorothy Kaucher arrived. Kaucher would become one of the Department's most distinguished faculty, a master-teacher in the development of oral interpretation as an artistic, creative medium.
Dr. Sanderson resigned in 1932 and was succeeded by Elizabeth Jenks who served for the next five years. A woman of quiet dignity, Jenks' job was to stabilize the rapidly growing program and maintain a control of the cry for specialization on the parts of both faculty and students. After her predecessors period of harmony and common vision, Jenks had to cope with rising faculty personality differences which had been near-absent to this point. Jenks was unsuccessful in solving a variety of problems due to the fact that she was out of step with a much larger faculty now clamoring for a "place in the sun"--often the center place. In 1932, voice analysis and phonetics courses were restructured into a new offering titled Voice and Diction. By 1932-33 the Department listed fifteen one-quarter courses in addition to the two basic year-long courses.
Former undergraduate James Clancy, who had joined the faculty in 1936 after moving up the peninsula to get an MA. degree from Stanford, was touted in the 1938 Campus Newspaper as "the best student ever turned out by the Drama Department."
As preparation for a division of the Department into the two areas of Speech and Drama, the department in the Summer of 1936 offered a School of the Theatre, presenting eight courses and the production of a play each week. The School presented this curriculum:
Laboratory Theatre Gillis, Clancy
Motion Picture Appreciation Gillis
Play Production Gillis
Art of Makeup Mendenhall
Voice and Diction Mendenhall
If you have ever wondered for whom our building at Fifth and San Fernando was named, meet department founder Hugh Gillis. Constructed in 1955 as the Speech and Drama Building, it was renamed as an act of affection and respect.
The following year, 1937, Hugh Gillis assumed the duties as Chairman of the (temporary) Department of Drama. However, in June of 1937, Elizabeth Jenks unexpectedly resigned as Head of Speech, and Hugh Gillis was appointed to succeed her, thus postponing for some twenty-five years any further serious consideration of departmental division. Under Gillis' administration, Dorothy Kaucher coordinated Speech and James Clancy coordinated Drama. This organizational structure proved better in theory than practice, and two years later was abandoned. Gillis oversaw a period of tremendous growth in specialized and professionally-oriented courses and activities in the years 1937-42. Specializations such as Advanced Acting, Makeup, Motion Picture, American Drama, and Directing were added. Play Production continued as a pre-requisite for all other courses. Membership in San Jose Players was also pre-requisite to actual participation in production.
As a specialized offering, Radio-Television was launched in 1936-37 with an upper division course in Radio Speaking taught by William McCoard, and the next year by Dorothy Kaucher. (In 1939-40, the title was changed to Radio Production.) The class was actually more involved in writing and producing rather than speaking and engendered great interest and enthusiasm for actual telecasting experience. Inasmuch as the Department had no facilities other than basic classroom microphones, contact was made with the official s of KQE, a local commercial station which had opened in 1926. The station managers were supportive, and a cooperative plan was developed in which students contributed short programs and several on-going series, ranging from campus news through educational programs to radio dramas. In most cases these programs were written cast, and directed in the department, KQW furnishing only the broadcasting facilities. By far the most popular program, from the standpoint of the students, was the radio drama.
A true radio specialist, Edgar Willis, was hired in 1946 to develop curriculum in the Radio-Television field. He combined three smaller offerings into a one-year course called "Elements of Broadcasting" and, two years later in 1948, submitted a proposal for a special two-year "Trial Curriculum in Radio Speech" which was approved as an emphasis in the major leading to an A.B. degree.
Our First Radio and Television Star
Between 1937 and 1940, the work of one student was conspicuously superior. Jean Holloway wrote, directed and produced many scripts both over the local station and over KYA in San Francisco. Among these scripts were several award winners, and at least one radio drama received a national award as the best dramatic script of the year. Jean Holloway later was hired to write the Kate Smith Hour scripts and later wrote several television programs such as The Maytag Hour and Mr. President. It was only natural that eventually the motion pictures would purchase her services as a scenarist, a position she was still holding in 1962.
The official Department Brochure of 1947 describes the early Radio program:
For students interested in radio the Department of Speech and Drama provides studio rehearsals and live broadcasts. Programs are presented by the college each week over local stations. In addition to actual experience on the air, the department offers a complete group of courses which provide a concentrated training in radio writing, radio speaking, and radio production.
This year's outstanding series included "Short Story Playhouse,: a dramatization of the world's great short stories; "Drama Time," an outlet for the production of original scripts; and "News and Interviews," which presented news of the college and introduced student and faculty members to the public. The college radio studio is completely equipped with sound records, recording machines, etc., and gives students of speech and drama the opportunity to record their work for study and improvement.
Alumnus John Wulzen (class of 1957) remembers the early days of SJSU Radio Drama:
"One of my early remembrances as a student at SJSU was the day I first heard my own voice coming out of a tape recorder. I guess my response was the usual one. "That's me?" The first time one hears his own recorded voice he probably says the same thing. It took place in a class run by Courtney Brooks, I believe. That same day I learned to correctly pronounce the word "theater," I had pronounced it with emphasis on the "a" in the word as though it had three syllables. I learned to pronounce it like Sir Ralph Richardson, not a yokel from some country town in the South.
I read somewhere, or someone told me, that when listening to a radio drama, your mind becomes the "silver screen of your imagination" that you use to conjure up the setting and characters. As a boy I would sit by the radio every night listening to the comedy of Jack Benny, and dramas such as, "The FBI in Peace and War," and one of my favorites, "I Love a Mystery" starring Jack, Doc, and Reggie. Three undaunted hero-types who defeated all the bad guys before the end of the thirty minutes of the unbounded situations they found themselves in.
So when I went to college, with the help of our Government, I found myself in the Radio and Television department started by a young professor named Bob Guy. Our first class rooms were in one of the barracks next to the Men's gym. I think the barracks were constructed for the use of aeronautical students, but I can't be sure at this late date. I hooked up with a couple of students, one a writer and the other a big guy with a deep rumbling voice. They were (and still are) named Jim Ahern (the writer-director) and Jim Hutchens (the voice). We had a ball. By then we were in the new R/TV building, (Gillis Hall) with our own studio and everything!
One day we were rehearsing a show outside the building. Ahern wanted the "realism" of people walking by. Another student, who I believe is still there, was doing the engineering chore in the booth inside. His name is Glen Pensinger and I believe he's the TV engineer at Gillis Hall.
Hugh Gillis was a character also. A big tall gangling man, he was more of an administrator than a teacher, I believe. (We used to call him "Huge" Gillis. Behind his back of course).
We also studied Oral interpretation, the lifting of the words off the page and giving them blood and bone. I had one oral interpretation professor who would stop a student in mid-sentence and shout, "What?" Of course this would put off the reader who would just look mystified. What are you trying to say? The professor would ask. He'd keep this up until the student would finally get it. Then he'd continue, a little worse for wear, but with a stronger sense of what he was doing.
I'm really sorry that radio drama is no longer in fashion. It was so gratifying to act in radio shows. To put to use that "silver screen of the imagination."
WWII Devastates the Department
During WWII many faculty were drawn into military or public service, fortunately without casualties. Adjusting to the necessities of the war years, most courses were dropped, the faculty decreased to four, the regular season of productions was abandoned, and enrollment plummeted to less than thirty.
During the annual Christmas production of 1941 an unexpected blackout was called. For over an hour 2,000 people sat in a darkened Morris Dailey Auditorium--trying to keep up spirits by singing Christmas Carols--until the All-Clear sounded. Of this period, Alumna Dorothy Shaw Somerville (class of 1944 writes:
I am an old Alumna (1944) and spent many happy days and nights in our old headquarters (as speech and drama majors) the little theatre and the makeup room and the bull pen. Those days our head was Dr.Hugh Gillis and faculty members James Cancy, J. Wendell Johnson, Ted Hatlen, Lucie Lawson, and the remarkable Dr. Margaret Letzer and Dr. Dorothy Kaucher.
We were rehearsing our Christmas play when we heard the news about Pearl Harbor. During the next four years the department continued to have performances and rehearsals--even during "blackouts." Gradually our co-ed group declined to almost an all female group, but we never forgot that "the show must go on!"
In those ancient times the local merchants were most generous to us who were responsible for "props'. They would loan us anything we needed--especially Mr. Stackpole of Stackpole's Jewelry Store. We made our own costumes, flats and even learned how to re-upholster old furniture. We all became followers of "Improvise, Improvise."
In spite of the war and its anxieties and loss of friends, our teachers kept us looking forward and focused. We had a wonderful experience. Harrison (Benny) McCreath returned and became a faculty member, Clarence Cassell became Clancy Cassell on San Francisco radio and others like myself became teachers. But it was that wonderful faculty group that gave us all great standards to live by. I shall never forget my graduation walk between the rows of all my professors and their smiles as each one of us marched by.
Oddly enough, in the midst of the emergency, the title of the Department was officially changed to Speech and Drama in the Fall of 1942.
Alumna Lois Hartman (class of 1943) reflects:
I seem to remember one stage show that was interrupted during a blackout. At lunch time several of us met Peter Mingrove, faculty, back stage in the Little Theatre to record Red Cross appeals. The Radio Speaking Club, with Mr. Irwin, trudged up to KQW to do thirty minute dramas during those years. At year's end we celebrated with a banquet at the basement of the old Italian Hotel west of campus. Some clever members made place cards to designate our seating arrangement. We each had a quote from some show we'd done.
When the Japanese were ordered out of San Jose, our secretary was one of them. The Theatre group organized a farewell party for her family. I believe her name was Helen <Mineta>. We were desolate.
I remember Mendy's diction class where we breathed deeply and recited "Four score and seven years ago . . . " in unison. I still breathe deeply on occasion and think of him.
Tragically, Hugh Gillis spent some time in a sanitarium out near Alum Rock Park. When we visited, he was always optimistic and was "going to be fine" very soon.
Ted Hatlen and Marie Lucy were struggling to direct and prepare for careers. My memory is Ted's production of East Lynne in which I suffered greatly as a tragic heroine with Bill Kidwell and a fun group of hams.
Following WWII, most of the faculty returned, and the immediate increase in enrollment allowed for a Drama major separate from any requirements in Speech. In 1949 the Department instituted the requirement that a "Degree major must earn a 'C' or better in all required Drama courses," a requirement still in effect in 1999.
The Department Brochure of 1947 describes the reviving Post-War program of plays on the mainstage:
Plays have been staged at San Jose State College for the last fifty years. And since 1928 a pre-arranged schedule of plays has been sold to the public as an entire season. These productions are presented in the College Little Theatre and draw audiences from the whole Bay Area. There is a minimum of six main productions given each year, and each show has a run of five to ten nights. Tryouts for roles in the main productions are open to the entire student body and are directed by the members of the drama staff. These productions have achieved a high standard of excellence as witnessed by a steadily growing audience, highly favorable newspaper criticism, and frequent attendance of talent scouts and directors from other colleges and universities.
Season 1946-47 Season 1947-48
Duchess of Malfi Androcles and the Lion
Kiss and Tell Rosmersholm
Ethan Fromme My Sister Eileen
The Doctor in Spite of Himself Medea
The Assassin Uncle Harry
Over Twenty-One The Affairs of Anatole
One of the most important Drama students of the Post War Years was Evelyn McCurdy-Sivier, the "pore little critter"(1947-51). In his own memoirs of this period, Wayne Mitchell writes about McCurdy, "I'd never acted with adults before. Evelyn McCurdy acted women with conviction." Now a professor emeritus from Wayne State University, Alumna McCurdy-Sivier, remembers the Department:
My years at San Jose add up to a very special time in my life. It was a magic time which eventually led to a new and challenging career. As to memories it is difficult to know what to include or where to stop.
To begin, I must return to my introduction to San Jose State. During the years 1947-1951 I had the dubious fortune to be what movies has called "Mother was a Freshman." The war was over and veterans were beginning to take advantage of tuition grants. I was not alone in starting college at the age of thirty, but as a woman, not a mother and not of the military I did not quite fit the mold. Earlier I had worked on the "Subway Circuit" in New York, acting in shows which traveled to Long Island and as far as the subway would take us. When war was declared I was back in California, married during the war, and in 1947 found myself alone again. The war had finally ended and I had time to think of the theatre. I heard about the good productions at State and wanted to become involved. College had always been a goal but the depression, marriage and the war interfered.
The Speech and Drama faculty at the time was of such high quality that standards of excellence were almost a requirement. Dr. Hugh Gillis was Chair, Dr. James Clancy, Mr. John Kerr, Wendell Johnson, Berneice Prisk, Beth Loeffler, Dr. Dorothy Kaucher, Dr. Marie Carr and several others were fine educators who followed Dr. Gillis in his quest for excellence. The well-known Helen Mineta was secretary to Dr. Gillis at that time. These people became my friends as well as mentors, especially Marie and Helen.
I was cast in numerous productions and can relate events with a clear sense of pride. For example, the onset of polio during the second act of The Late Christopher Bean.Stanley Schwimmer , the male lead, lost his voice completely. Out talented cast together with our director devised a plan to sit Stanley at his desk with the rest of the family surrounding him. They managed to take his lines and make it look natural. It was a sad day when we learned Stanley had polio, but fortunately it was not a major case and he recovered with very little disability.
Other mishaps occurred during Uncle Harrywhen props forgot the all-important murder weapon. It was not easy, but I'm afraid the script was slightly rewritten before we were back on track. We had zippers breaking on stage, illness with no understudy and countless others. I remember my nightly surprise when I looked at the baby in my arms with great tenderness only to find spiders, pigs, and the like. My lines were often "pore little critter" in Margaret Flemmingand I lived with that nickname for quite a while.
There are so many memories of those people and those shows, this letter is only a small remembrance of good shows (Many standing ovations) and good times. San Jose State was good to me and for me.
The photographs I have enclosed are the only ones I have had copied. I have many more, together with programs and some news clips. The copy of the news item was also enclosed to illustrate the spirit of the Department and the School. The trophy was from a Western Speech Conference held in Los Angeles. Our faculty was especially pleased to beat such schools as UCLA and USC. The Student of the Year Award was presented to me (make-up and all) in the big auditorium. To my surprise, Mr. Kerr stretched the intermission of Noah and I was escorted there and back. Dr. MacQuarrie had held up that portion of the program for the few minutes it took to get me there.
After all these years I still work in the theatre when an "older" lady is needed and sometimes as an acting coach. It is not enough to suit me, but it keeps me in the swing of things.
In 1951 the M.A. program was added in Drama. On order from Sacramento the college was restructured into Divisions, with the Speech and Drama Department a part of the Division of Fine Arts. Hugh Gillis was appointed Chairman of this Division.
In 1952 the A.B. in Drama was divided into three types: Acting-Directing, Theatre Production, and Drama/English with an emphasis on writing and Literature.
In 1953 the A.B. in Radio was expanded to include Television and shifted to the Drama side of the Department.
Alumnus Wayne Mitchell (class of 1954) writes about the activities and personalities of the 1950s:
I knew nothing about San Jose State College in 1948. My high school drama teacher advised me to try their summer, drama program. I am thankful to this day! Top to bottom the department faculty was excellent.
Dept. Head Hugh Gillis was ably assisted by secretary Helen Mineta. James Clancy was probably the "star." He directed and acted. His "King Lear" was memorable.
I remember Rose of the Rancho. It was a period piece done in the old outdoor "Quad." Dr. Clancy huddled in the audience during rehearsals. He was battling bleeding ulcers. The medication was a thermos of warm milk. Every time he left itunattended, it disappeared, only to be found on stage somewhere. I can still hear "Who has my warm milk?" echoing through the quad. I was in "Rose." I played a cavalry Lieutenant who saved the day. The biggest challenge was wearing a sword on my hip. The damned thing kept sliding between my legs. It was hard being heroic while straddling the silver sword.
John Kerr was the master of comedy timing.
Beth Loeffler did most of the modern plays.
J. Wendell Johnson was a genius in set design. I remember him painting a portrait for a set with a spray gun.
Jim Lioi and Doug Morrison took care of the scenery. Jim was up and down ladders and ropes. One day on his way to the "grid" he missed a step. He fell to the stage. It wasn’t long before he rejoined us, crutches and all.
Miss Prisk was the costumer. I somehow passed her class after battling the sewing machiness for a quarter.
Bob Guy headed the radio dept, Wallace Murray, Marie Carr, Benny McCreath, Ted Balgooyan and Jim Greenleaf taught speech.
Ward Rasmus did Voice and Diction. I learned dialects from him.
For the first time, I was in classes with adults. Gray-haired men, home from the service, made hair whitener uneeded.
Don Holliday, Jackson Young and Matt Pendo were outstanding, mature actors.
Cliff Roche was the comedic star. Jim Jensen and John Calderwood did most of the romantic leads. Jim Forrester played the "strange" characters, Dottie Williams did many of the ingenues and Betsy Smith was a great vixen.
I’d never acted with adults before. Evelyn McCurdy played women with conviction. Bill Furnell and Don Pearlman were very talented and Russ Scineca played Russ Scineca, hilariously.
Ivan Van Pere went from S.J.S. to the San Francisco Opera as a stage manager. Len Weiss was into dramatic literature and taught at the Community College level.
Pete Hayden did a little of everything, very well.
Gerry Charlebois became Michael Forrest and worked a lot of "Soaps" and "Westerns" on T.V. His first break came on "Lux Video Theatre" with Lillian Gish.
Gwen Damm was busy on the Soaps. Shirley Wilbur was active in N.Y. theatre. Others I’m sure were successful, but I’ve lost track of them.
We had the opportunity to do five shows in the summer. I remember rehearsing one show while performing in another.
During the regular year the "classics" were emphasized. "Medea," "King Lear," and "Androcles and the Lion" gave many of us a chance to carry spears. There was even the student produced "Revelries" once a year.
I might be biased but I can’t imagine Northwestern having a better program. Stanford? Santa Clara? no contest!
A Building of Our Own
Much of the faculty energy in 1954-55 was spent in preparing for and executing a transition from the quarter system to the semester system. Curricular problems caused by this shift were still being felt in 1962 when Gillis wrote his history of the Department. During this period of post-war boom, 1952-1954, the new Speech and Drama Building (now Hugh Gillis Hall) was planned and built at the juncture of 5th and San Fernando Street. Prior to that time the department had operated out of the Little Theatre located as one of the connected buildings of the College quadrangle. As the department grew the scene shop, costume shop and several faculty offices were located in Quonset huts acquired after World War II. They were located outside the building and behind Morris Dailey Auditorium. Hugh Gillis was the force behind the construction of the building which was built in 1953, dedicated in 1954with a total area of 50,422 square feet at a cost of $1,284,866. Gillis had planned and worked for the new building since 1941. Of particular importance in the new building were radio and television studios. The 1953 building was a single story structure. The second floor was added afterwards. In 1982 the Speech and Drama Building was re-dedicated and named in his honor, Hugh Gillis Hall.
When Wendell Johnson, the department Scene Designer returned from a sabbatical leave and toured the new theatre prior to the dedication of the building he discovered a serious structural omission. The stage house had a grid to support the weight of scenery and lighting equipment that would be suspended from it. However, he pointed out that the "strong-back," two integral and major I-beams, had been omitted during the construction phase. The strong-back was the location for the head-block pulleys to which all the cables from the pulleys located through-out the grid system were gathered to be controlled by a counter-weight "fly system" for raising and lowering scenery and lighting equipment prior or during the performances. A fly system is a major necessity for the successful operation of a theatre. Wendell Johnson had pictures taken and eventually had to appear in Sacramento to plead for additional funds for the inclusion of the strong-back I-Beams. As a result of this omission the theatre was not allowed to be used until the oversight had been corrected. Performances were still presented in the old Little Theatre which meant that the students would apply their make-up and put on their costumes and then, rain or shine, dash from the new building to the old theatre across campus. After approval was received the construction crew had to cut holes in the roof and walls of the building in order to introduce the 50 foot long by 2 foot tall I-Beams into the building and create support for them.
The theatre eventually opened with the inaugural performance of Hamlet, featuring faculty and students in the cast and starring faculty member James Clancy.
Work Halted on New Speech Building
Work progress on SJS's million-dollar Speech and Drama building was halted following a breakdown of negotiations between the Association of General Contractors of Northern California and the AFL laborers' union. Four thousand laborers throughout the county were involved in the shutdowns. Negotiations broke down, according to the contractors association, over union demands for a 15-cent an hour increase. The contractors offered a 10-cent an hour pay raise.
The drama faculty held their weekly staff meetings in the department library during the 12:30 lunch hour. Shortly after the meeting started (sometime between 1965 and 1967), student Stanley Anderson rushed into the room to announce that there was a fire in the theatre. The staff all rushed to the theatre where they joined students in "manning" the fire-hose. The main velour act curtain was on fire and the flames had ignited an accumulation of dust on the electric race-ways, battens, and grid floor. This set-off the automatic sprinkler system, which covered the entire stage. Many of us were hoping the backstage switchboard would be involved so that a new one would be located in the room at the back of the auditorium that was included in the original design of the building. No such luck! The major damage was to the act curtain and teaser curtain as well as considerable water damage to the scenery and equipment on stage and in the trap room beneath the stage where all the rugs, lighting equipment, stair units, and large props were stored. All the lighting equipment had to be brought up to the stage and immediately dried out to avoid rust damage. That process took several days of volunteer labor.
All of the fuse links were replaced on all the sprinkler heads on stage and then the fire inspector turned on the main valve on stage. This was to test whether some sprinkler heads had been overlooked. Every thing appeared to be working. However, several weeks later the buildings and grounds department discovered that the main fire hose valve for the building had been turned off at the time of the fire but had not been turned back on. So some kind soul turned it on. We immediately discovered that several sprinkler heads on stage had been missed when replacing fuse links and we had another minor catastrophe and mop up.
Before San Jose was ever a town, the northwest corner of the current campus was a marsh where natives used to hunt wild fowl. When the Speech and Drama building was being built they had to drive redwood pilings down to bed-rock to give a solid base to the building. (The same thing had to be done when the current Walquist Library was being built at a later date but re-enforced concrete pillars were pounded into the ground instead of the redwood posts.) The local water table was very high at this location. Often during high-tide water from the lawn sprinklers would not be able to soak into the ground and there would be a layer of water on the grass that would only disappear when the tide went out. Consequently, they included a Sump Pump in the paint well located in the scene shop to evacuate water that would seep into long narrow four-foot high trough during the rainy season. It had an automatic switch to activate it which meant that at any time during the day or night the pump would "kick in" creating a loud racket that would echo throughout the back stage. A by-pass cutoff switch was installed in the shop adjacent to the stage to turn it off during performances. Unfortunately some stage managers often neglected to turn the system back on. This meant water would accumulate in the well and create a musty odor. That was an indication to turn the system back on.
During my <Ken Dorst> career at San Jose State it was revealed that the city of San Jose and especially the downtown area had sunk on an average of 12 feet because of the overdrawing of ground water. Once the ground settled there was not space left to be refilled with rainwater. Therefore the sump pump was not activated as often. During the 1970's we experienced a prolonged drought in the valley and the pump was no longer in action. At the end of the drought water again started to replenish the ground basin. One day I lowered the orchestra lift to the basement to get some lighting equipment. While down below I lifted the lid of the remote control outlet to insert the cable to raise the lift. I was shocked to discover a mirror-like surface reflecting light back. We discovered that since the sump pump had dried out and was not working the water had filled the paint well and overflowed through a drainage pipe to the orchestra lift well. The drainage pipe had been designed for the emergency condition of removing water from the lift area. It reversed the process. The hydraulic tubes for the lift were filled with water. The entire system had to be refurbished at a great inconvenience to the production program.
Gillis Steps Down
Hugh Gillis resigned after 18 years as chair 1955, for reasons of health. He was replaced by Harold Crain who brought with him a new emphasis on playwriting, dramatic literature, and a tighter organization of the Drama staff. Crain took on curriculum revision, the addition of new faculty, development of Children's Theatre, and the construction of a second floor on the Speech and Drama Building. Dr. Ward Rasmus was appointed Associate Head. Hugh Gillis retired in 1962 after a 33 year tenure in the department.
Writing in 1957 of the Gillis legacy, Benjamin Gilbert, in his bookPioneers for One-hundred Years, states "The department is one of the largest in the West and has evolved into a cultural center for drama in the community."
In the late 1940s it became evident that production in television must be added. With the appearance of commercial television in 1948, it became obvious that the new field would have to be included if broadcasting training was to be complete, and since the early 1950s more and more emphasis was placed upon this aspect of broadcasting.
Edgar Willis, a radio specialist, was without experience in Television and resigned in 1951. He was replaced by Robert Guy, during whose six energetic years developed new curricula, acquired equipment, secured practice space, and enrolled new majors who soon constituted one-third of the Department total. The Department was used by State in the mid-1950's as an experiment to decide what broadcasting training should be allowed in state colleges. After an affirmative decision by the State, the Department's program was encouraged by a liberal infusion of state funds.
"About the same time, with the realization that there was much interdependence between drama and television production, the curriculum was shifted from the speech area to that of drama, where, to the present <1962>, it has remained."
"To understand the basic curricular and administrative problems faced by the leaders in this area <Radio-Television>, one must recognize several factors: the high cost of equipment for such and operation, the difficulty in securing instructors with a combination of high academic standards and technical proficiency and experience, and the tremendous student interest which is not always correlative with academic ability. These factors give reason first for the extremely rapid growth of offerings, and second for the almost continuous reorganization of those offerings."
Alumna Patricia Morris (class of 1956) remembers the first graduating class of Radio and Television majors:
Though there were no film degrees (my first love) when I came to San Jose State in 1951, I was privileged, as the first young woman, (among these nine young men: James Barry, David Browne, Louis duCharme, Richard Garcia, Richard Garvin, Charles Gingold, Frederick Hare, James Houston, and Alfred Tisch, Jr.), to earn a Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1956 in Radio and Television.
The Department was fortunate, on Robert Guy's resignation (1959), to secure the services of Clarence Flick who brought to the work a background of commercial experience equal or superior to Guy's, and an academic training and educational philosophy much needed in the development of radio-television training into a position of security both from the standpoint of its occupational aims and of its academic standards. As Curriculum Supervisor, and Coordinator for Radio and Television, Dr. Flick with his staff achieved in three years (1959-62) phenomenal success in coordinating these two basic and oftentimes opposing needs. The area constantly enriched its offerings with projects of various types, some bringing prestige to the department through winning of important awards and citations.
On March 19, 1960, the Radio and Television area of the Department began a series of television productions entitled Perspective. More than fifty programs were carried by coaxial cable from the Speech and Drama Building for broadcast over KNTV's transmitter from 1960 to 1962.
KSJS is Born
For three years, beginning in the Fall of 1958, the Radio-Television area broadcast (on a campus wired wireless system for one hour) radio programs produced by students. This sustained effort led to the development of policy and plans for a fifty watt College FM station to be operated out of the Department. Applications for an educational broadcasting license was placed before the FCC in early 1962 with FM service beginning in the February 1963.
A HISTORY OF KSJS-FM
Professor Mike Adams tells the story of one of the first local college stations, KSJS-FM, 90.5 mhz at San Jose State University. Since 1988 he has been the station's faculty advisor:
America in 1960. The Cold War was raging, Sputnik was orbiting, Kennedy had just defeated Nixon for the presidency, Elvis was getting out of the army and AM radio had given drama, comedy and variety away to television and replaced big band with rock and roll. Locally, that same year, a memo was presented to President John T. Walquist recommending that San Jose State College establish an FM broadcasting station. Back then, there were few FM stations in existence with only a handful licensed to colleges. In fact, a survey completed here in 1960 by San Jose State radio and television students indicated that only 26% of the students actually had the FM band on their radios. Armed with this information and led by Drama Professor Clarence Flick, a committee of faculty, staff, and administrators submitted a proposal for KSJS-FM which eventually became part of the license application.
In the proposal dated January 1962, it was suggested that for about $11,000, a transmitter and studios could be purchased and installed. Funds would come from both the instructional budget and fees generated by the Associated Students. It would be staffed and programmed by the faculty and students of the Speech, Drama and Journalism Departments and, while expected to provide an educational experience for students, it would clearly be under the control of the newly created FM station Policy Committee. Programming goals as stated in the original proposal to the FCC were those designed to "reflect the quality and objectives of the college." Indeed, several pages of programming policies were presented as part of the original application, all suggesting plenty of checks and balances on programming content, i.e., the college promised to watch the students carefully. It should be noted here that all applicants for a federal broadcast license were expected to say these sorts of things.
On February 11, 1963, KSJS-FM went on the air. With a modest power of 85 watts, it was possible to hear the new station several miles from the College. Possible, of course, if you had that rare FM radio. During those early years, it was even recommended that small AM transmitters be installed in the Student Union and dormitories to rebroadcast KSJS-FM so that more students could receive the station. Programming in those early days was limited to the hours of 4:30 pm to 8:30 pm, Monday through Friday and only while the semester was in session. It was a humble beginning with much of the programming on tape from the National Educational Network. Students produced and presented news, sports, classical music and a variety of talk and interview programs.
Cut to the late 1960's. Campus protests, takeovers of administration buildings, calls for change, calls for ouster of anyone in authority, mostly as a protest to the wars in Southeast Asia. And like the institutions of higher education that sponsored them, in the latter 1960's and early 1970's, college radio stations both influenced and reflected the general social change in America. Attempted student takeovers of the station, one at gunpoint, and overreaction by administrators divided KSJS and even caused one faction of students to defect from the station and try to start their own. Faculty reacted by calling for more control over the station administration and programming content. KSJS began broadcasting so-called 'free-speech messages' and the campus had a 'committee for open media.' It was a time of change at San Jose State College and its tiny 85 watt FM station.
The passage of the Public Radio Act in 1967 caused many educational licensees to pause and reflect on their future, and by the early 1970's, there was plenty of discussion at San Jose State about possible affiliation with National Public Radio, NPR. With dissatisfaction over the operation of the station growing in proportion to the social and political events of the time, the College FM Policy Committee in 1973 recommended that KSJS apply for a power increase in order to qualify for NPR affiliation. In that same study "KSJS-FM, a Time for Decision," it was suggested that KSJS might be taken out of the hands of students and run by administrators. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed. KSJS-FM was able to increase power to 1000 watts by 1975 and remain as a student station in the Theatre Arts/Radio-TV-film Department. In 30 years, the wheel has been reinvented at least a dozen times.
In 1963, the College FM Committee reported that "the FM station was in financial difficulty and was saved by a one-time only contribution by our Dean. Don't tell anyone, but we've been in financial difficulty every year since then, and at least twice in 1989, we were saved by a "one-time only" contribution by our Dean. These Deans are good people to know. We have also managed to withstand the plethora of well-meaning but largely ineffective committees and subcommittees, all with their own agenda for KSJS. We are left today with a student-run, student-staffed, student-funded station, but with the programming expectations of a public radio station. It is an awesome responsibility. So with all this accumulated history, experience and knowledge in mind, you ask, where are we going? As we enter 2000 and our 38th year of broadcasting, I'm pleased to report that we show great promise. We have one of the best student staffs in the history of the station; we are on the air 24 hours every day of the year; and we have at least 150 students from 30 different majors contributing to the administration and programming of the station, most for course credit. After three years of technical study, we have raised and relocated our antenna for a dramatic boost in our coverage area. We now serve the entire South Bay from Palo Alto to Pancheco Pass. Twice KSJS was named "Station of the Year" by the National Association of College Broadcasters. We have the support of our administration while maintaining a highly eclectic selection of programming. Our purpose is clear: "to provide a unique liberal-arts experience in broadcasting for university credit and to serve the university and South Bay communities with programs that entertain, inform and challenge.
And it works. In 1989 within five minutes of the Loma Prieta earthquake, several dozen student news reporters and others were on KSJS's airwaves, relaying vital information from local public safety agencies to our listening audience. We maintained this coverage for several days and passed the test--we actually did serve our dual purpose of providing that unique communications experience while meeting the needs of a real audience. Is KSJS-FM an important part of the San Jose State University experience? You better believe it.
The production of legitimate plays was the most important activity of the Department as stated by Hugh Gillis in 1962. To that date over 300 publicly performed plays were presented "from the early years of the college" including commercial, original, adapted, translated, children's, French, dance dramas, and operas. Extremely important was the production of one-act plays, these outnumbering the full-lengths many time over. Impossible to accurately document, record mention almost 400 one-acts through 1936. "It is safe to state that a conservative total of all plays given production to date <1962> would reach 1,000 titles, including repeats.
Alumnus Michael Handler (class of 1970) was here when flower power made it's mark on the Department:
One of the craziest events I attended at SJS was the Space Leak. . . ever hear of it? Well, it was a "happening" like they had in the '60s . . . well, it WAS the 60s!!! about 69 I think. We students gathered UNDER the main stage. We were all given Colonel Sanders masks to wear . . . wierd music and lights were piped in, as well as compressed air shot under the stage from above. The pit was awash with color and light, and hanging items and matrerials were everywhere. I don't remember why we did this exactly, but I remember everyone asking , "Is it leaking yet? Is it leaking yet?" OK. . . so now you know what we were really doing in the '60s'! I don't think Dr Todd was there. . . . I was looking for my official Space Leak T shirt but could not find it. The KFC mask is long gone . . . it was a most bizzare experience.
Campus Under Seige
The school year 1969-70 experienced many student demonstrations opposing the Vietnam War. Student/Faculty marches through many buildings eventually ended when student protesters occupied the Administration Building. The governor ordered the National Guard to San Jose. They bivouacked on 6th Street and occupied positions on San Fernando Street. During demonstrations tear-gas would seep into the ventilating systems of adjacent buildings. The Drama Department was in rehearsal for Man of La Mancha, the season's final production. The student protest demonstrations finally forced the administration officials to declare the campus closed. All activities on campus were halted. This created quite a dilemma for our production. Dr. Todd finally arranged with the Catholic Women's Center at the corner of 5th and San Fernando to use their large meeting room for rehearsals. This meant "invading" our sealed building to obtain necessary materials and props for rehearsal. Our production continued rehearsing before a nightly audience of curious nuns who lived in the center. Cast members were confronted with a problem. Many of them were sympathetic with the demonstrations on campus but also loyal to the production. The Students For Peace San Jose Student Offensive used Cervantes' speech from Man of La Mancha as a rallying cry for their protests. I <Ken Dorst> was proud that our cast members maintained their loyalty to the production, but also that they wanted to show their support for their fellow students. The cast presented a benefit performance to help pay the telephone bill accrued by the San Jose Student Offensive. Letters to the cast from faculty and the public expressed appreciation for a production that stressed the values of "The Impossible Dream during such a turbulent (reprinted from the leaflet distributed by the Students for Peace, San Jose Student Offensive):
The Impossible Dream
Cervantes: I have lived nearly fifty years, and I have seen life as it is. Pain, misery, hunger . . . cruelty beyond belief. I have heard the singing from taverns and the moans from bundles of filth on the streets. I have been a soldier and seen my comrades fall in battle . . . or die more slowly under the lash in Africa. I have held them in my arms at the final moment. These were men who saw life as it is, yet they died despairing. No glory, no valiant last words . . . only their eyes filled with confusion, whimpering the question: "Why?" I do not think they asked why they were dying, but why they had lived. When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies. Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams--this may be madness. To seek treasure where there is only trash. To much sanity may be madness. And maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it should be.
From the Man of La Mancha by Dale Wasserman
If we look at "life as it is" we find million of people in the United States and hundreds of millions across the globe living in pitiable and degrading conditions of poverty and ill health. We see men's' minds twisted by an all-too-normal tradition of racism, an order that sets "white supremacy" and "white man's burden" against "gooks and geeks", "spics", and "niggers". We see a history, ongoing and essentially unchallenged, of wars fought because of "economic necessity" or "national pride". Life itself is lunatic, and we are "mad" enough to try to change it. We of the San Jose Student Offensive know that students and faculty alone cannot change this lunacy: we need the help of those in the outside community. We must end U.S. involvement in the was in Indochina, that part of the lunacy must end at once. But ultimately, the student movement aims at effecting a change in the values of this society, at making a non-violent revolution in values, at dreaming the Impossible Dream. We need your help, for the attitudes that perpetuate poverty, racism, and chauvinism exist in all of us. It is with each of us that the lunatic order must end. Come to the Student Union to see our efforts at making life what it could be, what it should be. Come to see the madness at the College Union.