Student Activities at
St. Bonaventure University



The first notice of a dramatic event found in the Archives appears in the Olean Advertiser for January 31, 1861.  It is the announcement for "Sebastian, or the Roman Martyr" a drama in four acts.  Twenty-seven students performed in the production, Francis O'Reilly playing the lead role of Sebastian.  The performance was well received and it was reprised at Martin's Hall in Olean on March 18, 1861.

The following year a St. Patrick's Day eve exhibition was widely anticipated and Martin's Hall was "literally crammed with people" before the doors to the auditorium opened.  Over 600 saw the performance which was composed of three sections: an Oratorical, a Dramatical and a Comical.  The drama was "The Fall of Druidism in Ireland".  The event was so well received that it was performed again two weeks later.  The St. Patrick's Day exhibition became a traditional event, and was supplemented by performances that were part of the Commencement program.

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The first mention in an official publication of theatrical activity at Saint Bonaventure's College and Seminary appears in the 1875-76 Catalogue.  It notes that St. Bonaventure's Philharmonic and Dramatic Association "was organized in November, 1875, under the above title with the approbation of the Very Rev. President.  Its two-fold aim is, first to acquire a thorough knowledge of vocal music; also to develop the arts of declamation and the drama.  Secondly, to grace and enliven by its performances every public exhibition connected with the Institution." (12.)  Charles da Nazzano, OSF, the president of the college was the first Director.

The first issue of The Laurel, in June of 1899, relates a substantial amount of theatrical activity for the previous academic year.  In March, the James Dolan Literary Association (JDLA) "presented the famous English drama "Falsely Accused" Alumni Hall before a large and distinguished audience." (22)  The Dramatic Society offered two plays during the year.  "Nobody's Child" appeared on Thanksgiving and "How to Pay the Rent" was performed in February.
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The Many Venues of SBU Theater
With the construction of Alumni Hall, which opened in 1888, the campus had a new auditorium.  This facility was the seat of many student productions through the 1950s, though performances continued to be held off campus and in Butler Gymnasium.  When Alumni Hall was torn down in 1961, campus theater was orphaned until the chapel in Devereux Hall was converted into Garret Theatre in 1970.  Renovations in 1975 added tiered seating and upgrades for the lighting system.  The campus gained a second theatrical space in 1995 when the Rigas Family Theater opened in the Regina A Quick Center for the Arts.

A number of faculty have provided direction, and sometimes scripts, for the players in Bona's student theater.  During much of the 1920's and into the mid 1930's, Joseph Yanner directed and wrote many of the productions for the St. Bonaventure Players.  Fr. Claude Kean, OFM, helped to lead the St. Bonaventure College Players into the 1940's.  Kean is also known as one of the authors of "Unfurl the Brown and White" the school's main fight song.

The St. Bonaventure Dramatic Club, under the direction of Fr. Regis Galvin, OFM, provided the campus community with much of its theatrical effort during the late 1940's through 1953.  Shakespeare provided the foundation for many of the groups most notable performances during this period.

After a four year gap, the Garret Theatre Players was formed in 1957 by Rev. Crispin Maguire, OFM.  The first performance was "The Billion Dollar Saint."  The group's name was taken from its original meeting place, the attic, or garret, of Alumni Hall.  After Maguire left in 1959, there was a lack of leadership until Stephen Gray-Lewis arrived in 1964. The group continued under his leadership until his retirement in 2003.  Ed. Simone has provided guidance for the group since then.

Bowers, Kristin. "Garret Theatre has 'scene it all." The Bona Venture 12 Sept. 1997: 6.
Filipowicz, Jillian. "Dr. Gray-Lewis takes final bow at St. Bona's." Times Herald 10 May 2003: n.p.
"The Play's the Thing Again--Garreteers Bring It Back Live." The Bona Venture 21 Nov. 1958: 6.

Page added 5/11/2005 by D. Frank
Last updated: 18 May 2005

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