The Stratford Players began as the Stratford Literary Society in 1914 at the Harrisonburg Normal School. Since its early years, the club’s main goal has been to mount stage theater productions. What began as one major production per year has grown to four major performances, a children’s theater production and several student-written plays per year.
Stratford ‘s initial focus was on reading theatrical works. The original club colors were pink and green, its flower, primrose, and its motto, All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. The motto comes from As You Like It and Stratford refers to Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford-on-Avon.
In 1919, Professor Johnston spearheaded a reorganization which, in part, renamed the Stratford Literary Society as Stratford Dramatic Club. The group also switched its focus to producing stage performances and began presenting a play a year at Harrisonburg ‘s New Virginia Theatre. The first Stratford theatrical production was A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Other early productions include The Eastern Gate (1920), The Fan (1921) and Little Women (1924).
In 1973, Thomas H. Arthur was hired to develop the theater program. He was instrumental in transforming the extracurricular theater program into a department. Stratford Players leadership changed from a single advisor to a team of experienced faculty members. Arthur soon hired Allen Lyndrup, Thomas L. King, Pam Johnson, Phil S. Grayson and Roger Hall. In the 1980s, students gained more opportunities to direct with the advent of the annual Director’s Fest, a series of student-produced one-acts. This festival continues today and is the final project of the directing class each fall.
Today, Stratford Players members, School of Theatre and Dance majors, and open auditioners perform together in over a dozen performances a year. Pam Johnson has advised the Stratford Players since 2004 in addition to working side-by-side with students on costume design. Johnson stressed the uniqueness of the Stratford Players as a campus organization. The Stratford Players have a fiscal independence (box office revenue), but they are not independent of the School of Theatre and Dance. Members have a student presence in our academic theater program and can vote on play selections and budget decisions. Stratford Players members are eligible for the annual Stratford Players Scholarship as well as JMU’s six other theater scholarships. Outside of members’ participation in theater productions, the Stratford Players also hosts club events such as service days, an annual Snowball and the Stratford Prom.
(Special thanks to August Smith for this information. You can find out more at http://www.jmu.edu/centennialcelebration/stratford.shtml)