Monday, February 8, 2016

Early Dramatics In Mt. Pleasant

EARLY DRAMATICS   (Taken from the History of Mt. Pleasant pp 301-306)

By Dora Day Johnson
as told Valentine L. Anderson, 1924

I came to Mt. Pleasant March 1860. I was at that time eight years old. That winter the old log meeting house, in the center of the fort, was the play house. Some of the players who took part at that time were Wood Brandon, John Ivie and his wife.

Katherine Ivie, Dolph Bnennett, George Porter, Joseph S. Day and others whom I do not now remember. They played, "Good for Nothing Nan," and the "Merchant of Venice." The scenery was wagon covers and other materials mixed together, but didn't we children enjoy it! and so did everyone else. The next play house was the Social Hall, with real scenery. Wood Brandon and Kather­ine Ivie were the only two members who stayed with the company. In 1869 a new dramatic company was formed. Niels Madsen was always our treasurer, and took care of our cash, which consisted mostly of wheat, cedar posts, vegetables, etc. Those belonging to the company from time to time were, Stena Burrison, Lucy Whee­lock, Alice and Laura Day, Jane Tidwell, Kate Candland, Stena Tuft, Katherine Ivie, Rose Reynolds, and myself. The men were Dick Westwood, Henry Larter, Alfonzo Wheelock, Jerry Page, John Carter, Joseph Gribble, and my husband, Gustaf Johnson. Once in a while, Melvin McArthur and his brother, Duncan, Con­derset Rowe, Henry McKinney, Peter and Hans Gottfredson, Wood Brandon, Tom Coates, and a number of others whom I do not recall, would join the company.

During the winters of 1869 and 1870 the company would play three successive nights a week in Mt. Pleasant, and would also play in the neighboring towns, traveling, of course, in bob sleighs or wagons. They played such dramas as "The Rose of Elrick Hill," "Night and Morning," "The Skeleton Witness," and the "Carpenter of Roan." These were always followed with a farce, such as "Matrimony," "Swiss Swane," "The Forest Rose," etc. Each player received three complimentary tickets, and a settlement was made each spring. I remember once each player got two and a half bushels of wheat for their winter's work. Tickets were about twenty-five cents each. The company after a while owned their own scenery. The played in the Social Hall and in Jessons’ Hall. There was no entrance to the stage in the Social Hall, and the crowds were so large they could not pass through the aisles, so the cast had to crawl through the windows to get to the stage. Mary Katherine Ivie had legs that were too small to look good, and she would fill her stockings with bran; but upon moving about, the bran soon fell to her shoe tops, which were either laced or buttoned high tops. This looked rather funny, of course. The company played "Little Fontleroy," with Annie Woodhouse Cand­land, dressed in a black velvet suit and with white collars and cuffs; as Lord Fontleroy, she looked swell. It was unusual to see a girl dressed in boy's clothing in that day. The Bishop and family, the bishop's counselors and families always had free tickets.

Richard Westwood was one of the main players; Henry Larter was also a lead character. He cast all the parts. John Wallis was the one who did most of the prompting, and was assisted by Tom Coates and Alfonzo Wheelock. The players used no make up, excepting flour on the hair to make it gray. Thunder and lightning was made by using gun powder and sheet iron. When the company's settlement was made one. spring, Stena Tuft found that due her for her share was to pay for a lamp chimney she had broken. Later, the upstairs of the Co-op Store was used for plays. The audience always bought peanuts and enjoyed them between the acts, and oftentimes during the acts. It was very common for almost all the men in the audience to go outside between the acts, and rush in when the bell rang. At the close of the next to last act, the manager would make the following speech, "In behalf of the company, I wish to thank you for your patron­age, and after the third and last act, we bid you all good night."
Several traveling theatrical companies now made their regular visits, and they always played to packed houses. The Johnson Brothers, of Springville, and with them, Pearl and Alfonso Either. While the Stutz Dramatic Company were playing in Moroni, while cleaning with gasoline, Mrs. Stutz's clothing caught on fire and she was burned so badly that she died soon after. There were many real Negro Minstrel shows, too, with brass band and all the trimmings. The Fairview Dramatic Company and the Moroni Dramatic Company, in which Kenneth Kerr played important parts, also put on plays here, but Mt. Pleasant did not patronize the neighboring town companies very well.


By George Christensen, 1934

Personally, my memory does not go back beyond the old Jessen Hall, but I shall never forget some of the soul-stirring scenes we witnessed there.

In the fall of 1869 and on through 1870, a regularly organized Home Dramatic Company furnished the scenery by donation of the members, and Brother C. C. A. Christensen, of Ephraim, painted the pieces.

The next move in the early 70's was up to the new Jessen Hall and the reputation of the Mt. Pleasant players was such that it attracted experienced actors such as Dick (Richard ) Westwood, of Springville, and later of Fairview, and Judge Larter of Moroni. These skilled thespians played the heroic parts and aided in drilling the younger members. Westwood particularly excelled in training the voices to speak loud and clearly, and Judge Larter's specialty lay in the casting of the characters. A little later a fine old actor, Philip Hurst, came from Fairview to help out in several plays.

John Wallis became a pillar of strength to the organization by his accurate prompting, and many escaped chagrin and embarrass­ment by hearing the hoarse whisper of Brother John Wallis. Alfonzo Wheelock ably assisted Wallis when the latter's voice gave out.

There arose another tower of strength in the person of Joseph Wise, who, for many years, Was the stage manager. How often were we thrilled and terrified by the thunder and lightning he conjured up by the aid of gunpowder and a sheet of metal.

In the 80's there seemed to be a lull in the activities of the local home talent. That was when John S. Linsey and Company used to present fine plays to us at stated intervals. We now had a good show house upstairs in the Co-op building, which became known as the Madsen Hall.

However, occasionally local talent came together and put on some very creditable shows. Some of you will remember "Odds with the Enemy," which was put on under the direction of E. A. Day and Abram Johnson. In these performances, Ferdinand Ericksen, Magnus Rolph, Augusta Dehlin Ericksen, Abram Johnson, Amasa Aldrich and Dr. S. H. Allen, E. A. Day and others portrayed their stage ability.

Shortly after this, the Johnson brothers, Mose and Aaron, came to Mr. Pleasant and formed an elocution class, wherein they gave twelve lessons for $75.00 for the lot of us, and they agreed to drill us and take their payout of the proceeds of the play. Thus we put on the "Pearl of Savoy," wherein Miss Edie Dehlin starred in the title role.

About that time, December 2, 1886, a permanent organization, Mr. Pleasant Dramatic Association, was effected, with M. C. Rolph as Manager; Ferdinand Ericksen, Assistant Manager; George Christensen, Secretary; and Joseph Madsen, Treasurer.

Later the Johnson Brothers cooperated with the local associa­tion and put on some very creditable plays, which finally culminated in the famous presentation of "East Lynn," wherein Charlotte Stormfelt played Lady Isabel and Madam Vine; Rose Reynolds played Barbara Hare; Aaron Johnson played Sir Francis Levison; George Christensen, Archibald Carlyle; and Miss Annie Pritchett was little Willie, who soared to heaven before the eyes of the audience; Ella Wheelock Freston played the unforgettable Miss Corny.

A few years later came Alphonso Ethier and his sister, Pearl, and joined the local dramatic association in presenting "Brother Against Brother," and other plays.

I moved away and when I returned new hands had taken up the work. I hope someone else will take up the work where I left it, that a complete story of the development of the drama in old Mt. Pleasant may be prepared and recorded.

By Malvina Crane, 1926

The first general gathering place I remember was the Social Hall-still standing on the southwest corner of the square. Later, Yeppa Jessen built a larger house two blocks east, which at once became the most popular place in the little community. This hall had a platform in the east end, which .our theatrical troop could use as a stage, as soon as suitable scenery could be bought from C. C. A. Christensen, a local celebrity. After the scenic equipment had been put in, our troop held forth at regular intervals, crowds of eager people always packing the house to its utmost capacity. You should have been there to witness some of those classical plays! We had no very great artists, of course, but those who took part did the job to the satisfaction of all who came to witness the shows. What more could you ask of a bunch of amateur players?

I am unable to recall a complete list of the men and women who took part in our theatricals during the early years of our dramatic efforts to render public service. The real leader and organizing genius was the Englishman, John Wallis, who had con­siderable ability and did much towards securing the formation of an efficient troop. Assisting him were the following gentle­men, according to my recollection: J. A. F. Beaumann, Alma Bennett, R. N. Bennett, W. W. Brandon, John Carter, Thomas Fuller, Henry Larter, Christopher Johnson, Gus Johnson, H. P. Jensen, Albert Candland, Thomas Gledhill, John Dallin, Cyrus Dallin, Orson Lee, William McArthur, William Morrison, James Reynolds, Bent Rolphson, Alof Rosenlof, Allen Rowe, William Rowe, Conderset Rowe, Joseph Gribble, John H. Seeley, Hans Han­sen, James Wishaw, Richard Westwood, and Cap Clem.

Among the ladies were: Christina Bertlesen, Tina Bertlesen, Alice and Dora Day, Annie and Kate Candland, Mary Katherine Ivie, Hannah Reynolds, Candace Rowe, Nicholena Rolfson, Jane Tidwell, Stena Tuft, Annie Wallis, Lucy Wheelock, and Mrs. C. M. Wheelock.

The musicians were: John Gledhill, Bent Hansen, Hans Han­sen, James Hansen, Peter Almertz, Martin A. H. Myneer, Lars Nielsen, Lorenzo Nielsen, Peter F. Nielsen, and John Waldermar.

The popular dances were: Plain quadrille, Tucker quadrille, French Four, Upper Reel, and some Danish dances. Then there was the Flying Dutchman, the Mazurka, the "Tyrola," Polka or Danish Glide, and many kinds of fancy waltzes too numerous to mention, but which were a great improvement upon the present "jazzy" movements in the sober judgment of old people
It will not do to omit the Judge, Hyrum Seely, from our list of fun-makers, because he always was on the job, full of vim and hopping, skipping, and shouting to the top of his voice, reminding you of the little song which our ever jolly Lars Nielsen used to sing, thus:
When I was a little boy,
My mother used to say
That she used to spank me up and down
A dozen times a day.
For I'd either be up in a tree,
Or rolling down the hill;
It's a fact that whether I sit or stand
I really can't keep still.
No, I really can't keep still,
I really can't keep still;
It's a fact that whether I sit or stand,
I really can't keep still.

Nor could the Judge-not for the fraction of a moment-and while the years have done something to tame and tone his ever-­bubbling and youthful spirits, yet even now he would be willing to go back and live those joyous days over again. Who would not?

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