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September 1, 1937

John Houseman, actor, producer and co-founder—with Federal Theatre Project (FTP) colleague, Orson Welles—of the new Mercury Theatre, replaced FTP director Hallie Flanagan as director of the Vassar Experimental Theatre. Welles and Housman had collaborated on several FTP projects, including Welles’s Horse Eats Hat (1936), the all-black production of Macbeth (1936), and The Cradle Will Rock (1937), and Housman had directed the young Welles in Archibald MacLeish’s Panic in 1934 and composer Vergil Thomson and Gertrude Stein’s Four Saints in Three Acts the same year.

At Vassar, Houseman’s offering included The Infernal Machine by Jean Cocteau (1937) and, the following year, a rousing revival of Francis Beaumont’s pastiche The Knight of the Burning Pestle (1607) featuring President MacCracken and Philip and Hallie Flanagan Davis and their children. As managing director of The Mercury Theatre, Houseman arranged season discount admissions for Vassar students and faculty to the theatre’s productions, several of which were reviewed by students in The Miscellany News. He also directed a cooperative summer troupe, Dutchess County Players, funded by students, which presented three plays, S. N. Behrman’s Serena Blandish (1929), Eugène Scribe’s A Russian Honeymoon (1883) and Tree of Heaven (1938) by John Milton Caldwell in the summer of 1938.

“Im’s never quite sure,” Houseman told The Miscellany News in December 1938, “of what it is that students get out of a college theatre other than the fun or excitement of doing cooperative creative work. As technical training it is not especially valulable, and it raised the question of whether in any case the liberal arts college is the place for technical training. But the value of the Experimental Theatre…is in making a nucleus of intelligent audiences throughout the country, and as such it is extremely important.”

The Miscellany News

The Years