From Director of Theatre, Simon Donoghue
In 1883, one hundred and thirty-five years ago, Chester Arthur was the U.S. President. There were thirty-eight stars on the American flag. We were eighteen years out from the Civil War, enjoying a rare decade of peace. The Brooklyn Bridge was opened for traffic following ten years of construction. The first woman was hired for a position in the federal civil service. The Supreme Court rolled back the 1875 Civil Rights Act, allowing businesses to discriminate on the basis of race when hiring. Sojourner Truth, abolitionist and black civil rights advocate died; so did Alexander Stephens, the first and only Vice-President of the Confederate States of America. Despite the fact that this period is known as “The Gilded Age”, known for its excess and displays of wealth, the nation as a whole was in the middle of a three year depression.
Belmont Abbey College was seven years old, having been founded in April 1876 by monks sent from St. Vincent Archabbey in Pennsylvania. They arrived by train in Garabaldi, as Belmont was then known, and were taken by wagon to a frame house on what had been the Caldwell Plantation before the Civil War. Three students came with them, and classes began the same day. During the next several years, the fledgling institution was swept by disease and financial difficulties.
The monks were so intimidated by the hardships that they begged Archabbot Boniface of St. Vincent’s to close the monastery and allow them to return home. Instead, the Archabbot decided it was time for the small foundation to become independent. He asked for volunteers, and the first twelve monks were allowed to elect their own abbot, who would become the pivotal figure for the first one hundred years of the monastery and the College it sponsors. The new community elected Father Leo Haid, OSB, a young instructor in the Humanities with a passion for . . . theatre. You were probably wondering where this was going! Shortly after Haid arrived to take up the leadership of both the College and the Abbey of Mary Help of Christians, to give Belmont Abbey its proper name, he instituted the practice of performing plays as readings. This continued throughout the next two years until there were sufficient students and interest to justify the first full scale production in Jubilee Hall, the College’s first theatre.
Haid wrote plays for the students to perform, and he nurtured the theatre during the formative years until drama found a permanent home in what is now Grace Auditorium atop St. Leo, erected in 1906. There were plays every year, and Haid particularly enjoyed presentations on the great days of the academic year. It has continued, with welcome changes. During the 1970s, community members began to participate in productions of what by then was known as the Abbey Players.
More than a dozen directors have come and gone. After twenty years in poor quarters, the Haid Theatre was created as the permanent home for the Players in 1987. Season tickets were added, and the Abbey Players also took on the role as the community theatre for Belmont. Which brings us to this season. The history of the theatre in Belmont now stretches across three centuries. Thank you for being a part of it, and helping ensure that we make it into the twenty-first century and beyond, a strong, vital element in the cultural life of both the College and the surrounding area we call home!
The Abbey Players of Belmont Abbey College were founded in 1883, and have been an integral part of campus life for 134 continuous seasons. At present, the theatre produces six offerings a year, representing a wide repertoire of drama, comedy, and musicals. Recent notable productions have included Arthur Kopit’s Wings, John Patrick Shanley’s Outside Mullingar, Menken & Ashman’s Little Shop of Horrors, Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I, Sophocles’ Antigone, and Kaufman and Hart’s You Can’t Take It With You. In addition, the Players present The Abbey Shakespeare Series, an ongoing project dedicated to producing each of William Shakespeare’s plays.
Participation in the Abbey Players is open to any interested member of the Belmont Abbey College community, including those in the surrounding areas; community members, students, faculty, staff and monks regularly appear together. In addition, we function as the Belmont Community Theatre, which brings in theatre artists from the surrounding Metrolina area. Our audiences are drawn from both Gaston County, Charlotte/Mecklenburg, and beyond. Actors audition for roles. Audition notices appear both on-campus, and in the Gaston Gazette and Charlotte Observer, and are open to all.
The Abbey Players of Belmont Abbey College were founded in 1883, and have been an integral part of campus life and Belmont community for over a century. At present, the theatre produces six shows a year, representing a wide repertoire of drama, comedy and musicals. In addition to performance opportunities, the Abbey Players welcomes anyone interested in technical work. Under the direction of Professor and Technical Director Gary Sivak (BFA, UNC-Charlotte), technicians build sets, design and hang light/sound plots, and run shows through state-of-the-art instruments. Technicians trained by the Abbey Players have been accepted into MFA programs such as the University of North Carolina at Greensboro based upon the strengths of their portfolios alone, since Belmont Abbey College offers a theatre minor, and not a bachelor’s degree. Student actors at Belmont Abbey College have been accepted into programs at such diverse institutions as the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, University of Washington, and the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.
Join us onstage, backstage, and in the audience!