Princeton Triangle Club
Triangle Club “Chorines,” 1929 and movie trailer, 1936
From the Princeton University Archives: Hearst Metrotone newsreel about Princeton University’s Triangle Club practicing for “The Golden Dog,” the annual theater production for 1929-1930, which was performed at the opening of the McCarter Theatre in Feburary 1930. This is followed at 1:54 by a silent movie trailer, shot at an early stage of the Triangle production “Take It Away” (1936-1937) in a scene that seems to have been cut later. For more information or to comment on this film visit Mudd Manuscript Library’s blog “The Reel Mudd” http://blogs.princeton.edu/reelmudd/2…
Is a theater troupe at Princeton University. Founded in 1891, it is the oldest touring collegiate musical-comedy troupe in the United States, and the only co-ed collegiate troupe that takes an original student-written musical on a national tour every year. The club is known for its tradition of featuring an all-male kickline in drag.
The troupe presents several shows throughout the year. In September at the end of the University’s Freshman Week it presents a revue of popular material from previous years. In autumn it puts on an original student-written musical comedy in McCarter Theatre, then takes this show on tour over the Winter holiday season. In spring it puts on another original show in a smaller venue. Duringreunions after the end of the spring semester, it relaunches the previous autumn’s show at McCarter.
Among the club’s notable alumni are F. Scott Fitzgerald, Booth Tarkington, Russel Wright, Joshua Logan, Brooks Bowman, Jimmy Stewart, José Ferrer, Wayne Rogers, Clark Gesner, Jeff Moss, David E. Kelley, Nicholas Hammond, Zachary Pincus-Roth, and Brooke Shields.
The history of the Princeton Triangle Club reflects many major social, cultural, economic, political, literary and theatrical trends in the United States during the late 19th and 20th centuries. It also traces the evolution of both undergraduate life and theatrical endeavors at Princeton University. In its century-plus of productions, Triangle has commented upon Princeton-specific topics, from examinations and campus safety to the Honor Code and the eating clubs, in addition to broader movements and events, including war protests, political scandals, women’s rights, and affirmative action. Although Triangle essentially recreates itself every year with an entirely new, full-scale musical-comedy, the club remains committed to its longstanding traditions, from the annual national tour to the kickline, and perpetuates its unique spirit, blending topical humor with collegiate irreverence and outright playfulness.
Triangle’s history is documented in several ways. The Long Kickline: A History of the Princeton Triangle Club, written in 1968 by Donald Marsden ’64, provides a detailed chronology of the organization through the production of Sham on Wry in 1966-67. The senior thesis of Nancy Barnes ’91, One Hundred Years and Still Kicking: A History of the Princeton Triangle Club, updates this written record. Finally, Triangle’s extensive archives in Princeton’s Mudd Library include playbills, musical scores, scripts, reviews, photographs, business correspondence, tour itineraries, scrapbooks, recordings, and much more.
The Triangle Club archives begin in 1883 with a production of the Princeton College Dramatic Association; during the next five years the Association presented a number of plays. In keeping with the practice of British and American all-male institutions at the time, women’s roles were played by men. Entr’acte music, provided by the Instrumental or Banjo Clubs, consisted of popular dance tunes or operatic excerpts. Student theatricals were performed for the benefit of financially ailing athletic associations, and the sporadic activity of the Dramatic Association can be explained by the fluctuating fortunes of the sports teams.
In 1891 the Dramatic Association joined forces with the University Glee Club to present Po-ca-hon-tas, the first show in the Triangle tradition of musicals written and produced by students. According to a New York review, the reworked John Brougham play featured “new topical songs and local hits” and was well received, both on campus and in a Trenton performance. But the faculty vetoed a proposed New York performance, and over the years, students and administrators would often be at odds over theatrical activities. Nevertheless, the Association visited Trenton once again the following year with Katharine, a Shakespearean spoof marking the first appearance of Booth Tarkington 1893 in the Triangle records.
The 1893 production, The Honorable Julius Caesar, was again a reworking of Shakespeare. Tarkington, a senior and president of the Dramatic Association, was prominent as both co-author of the book and as actor in the role of Cassius. The show was so successful that it was repeated the following year, with several significant changes. Most importantly, the Princeton University Dramatic Association had been renamed the Triangle Club of Princeton. According to a preview in The New York Times, “several specialties will be introduced, such as tumbling, acrobatic feats, and dancing” and “James E. Wilson of Frohman’s company… will coach the club regularly four times a week.” If Wilson did indeed coach, the club had its first professional director in its very first show under the name “Triangle.”
Financial problems caused Club members to curtail expenses in 1895. Neither the February production, Who’s Who, nor the May offering, Snowball, were written by students, and both had relatively small casts. The following year the Club turned to a recent graduate, Post Wheeler ’91, in hopes that his magic touch as co-author of The Honorable Julius Caesar could be repeated, and they were pleased with the result. The Mummy (1895–96) was also notable as the first production in Triangle’s new home, the Casino, located on the lower campus near the present-day McCarter Theatre site. Yet another innovation was attempted in 1897. A Tiger Lily, the first Triangle show to be based on Princeton student life, was part of a double bill with Lend Me Five Shillings, a British farce. Since neither show was a great success, the Club returned to the tried and true in 1898 with a revival of Po-ca-hon-tas. The Privateer, presented in 1899, was originally entitled The Captain’s Kidd Sister, but the name was changed because the University of Pennsylvania’s Mask and Wig Club had already produced a show about Captain Kidd. The “Privateer March” was the first commercially published Triangle song.
In 1901, with The King of Pomeru, Triangle ventured for the first time to New York, and the next year the club ventured as far as Pittsburgh. After the 1901 New York performance, Franklin B. Morse 1895 proposed a meeting to organize Triangle alumni, whom he believed could help promote the Club, build its reputation, arrange the annual tour, collect materials and memorabilia, and generally socialize among themselves. In June of that year, thirty-seven alumni met in Princeton, and the Triangle Board of Trustees was established.
During the first decade of the 20th century, the organization of Triangle became increasingly structured. Printed copies of the script, “for the exclusive use of candidates,” first appear in the archives with The Man From Where (1903–04).
Although A Woodland Wedding (1899–1900) included a specialty skirt dance, and “The Pony Ballet” was a part of Tabasco Land(1905–06), The Mummy Monarch’s kickline in 1907 was the first of that tradition to be documented photographically in the Triangle Archives.
Budding fame and higher standards
By 1910 the tour had extended as far west as Chicago and St. Louis; printed luncheon menus and newspaper clippings provide evidence of the elaborate social functions that were becoming part of the annual trek. With Once in a Hundred Years (1912–13), Triangle moved its tour to the Christmas season, again traveling as far west as St. Louis. The following year, President and Mrs. Wilson attended The Pursuit of Priscilla’s Washington matinee performance; the First Family then hosted a reception for Triangle at the White House.
The Evil Eye (1915-16) had a distinguished pair of neophyte authors: Edmund Wilson ’16 wrote the book, and F. Scott Fitzgerald ’17 was responsible for the lyrics. Although he was never a cast member in a Triangle production, Fitzgerald wrote three shows for the Club between 1914 and 1917.
During 1917-18, a four man Triangle troupe toured Europe to entertain the soldiers stationed there for World War I. After the year hiatus, the club became active again with a revival of The Honorable Julius Caesar. The first post-war tour occurred when The Isle of Surprise was taken on the road during Christmas break of 1919. This show marked a change in attitude toward Triangle productions. In the program, Club president Erdman Harris ’20 described the new production: “We hope that a new day has dawned, that ‘Jazz’ will be forever relegated to a back seat, that Broadway will cease to be the idol of those who create the shows, that their staging shall be done in Princeton by Princeton men, and that the authorities and graduates will approve what is being done to elevate the standard of a society whose value in student life has been seriously questioned.”
In the spring of 1922, Triangle staged George Bernard Shaw’s The Devil’s Disciple. This production marked a milepost in the Club’s history, for its three female roles were actually played by women. Sets for this production were designed and painted by Russel Wright during his freshman year, marking one of the few times that a freshman was ever allowed to join Triangle (to learn more about the Princeton Triangle Club go to the link above).