Thespians have crafted a significant stage presence on campus, from the creation of the first Rice Dramatic Club to the formation of the student-based Rice Players and eventually the establishment of a formal theater department. After a couple of starts, college theater took off in the mid-1960s with the advent of Wiess Tabletop Theater’s 1965 production of “Antigone.” Wiess Tabletop Theater would produce one show every semester until fall 1967, when the group risked its entire budget to produce “Hello, Hamlet!,” a musical parody written by George Greanias ’70. Now, “Hello, Hamlet!” is reprised every four years.
“As a living work that evolves with every production, students feel both ownership over the material and pride in its legacy,” said Elisabeth Papadopoulos ’05, who choreographed and penned lyrics for the 2004 “Hello, Hamlet!” In the 1980s, Tabletop added the Freshman One Acts to its annual season. “The Freshman One Acts would break down barriers quickly between upper- and lowerclassmen, forge new friendships and connections, and offer the entire college a way to get to know and celebrate our new members,” Papadopoulos said.
In 1970, Baker College established Baker Shakespeare, affectionately called BakerShake, currently the longest-running Shakespeare festival in Houston. BakerShake has presented one of the playwright’s works every spring, producing popular plays like “The Tempest” and “Romeo and Juliet,” but embracing innovation like casting a female lead in “Henry V” in 2018.
Celebrating its 50th season in 2019, BakerShake has been directed by members of the Royal Shakespeare Company and Actors From the London Stage, one of the oldest touring Shakespeare companies in the world. Mostly though, BakerShake has been led by alumni and student directors like Joseph “Chepe” Lockett ’91, who has participated every year since 1988 and directed it seven times. “Over the years, you can see returning students and newcomers working side by side, passing on knowledge and traditions,” Lockett said. “It’s a welcoming group, secure in its past yet aware that it always needs to welcome new blood to keep going.”
The residential colleges, especially the newer ones, have been mounting contemporary — sometimes experimental — shows to satisfy a modern audience. Will Rice College presented the cult classic “The Room” in November, and in April 2018, McMurtry College put on “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” as a parody. In December 2017, Martel and Sid Richardson colleges collaborated on the off-Broadway musical “The Last Five Years,” directed and co-produced by Jake Reinhart ’19. “In my experience, the thing that really drives college theater is that students want to be involved in shows and have their own ideas and passion projects,” Reinhart said. “College theater is great because it allows us to do much more creative and avant-garde shows in a low-risk environment.”