Curtain Call: St. Mary's Old Theater

St. Mary's College Auditorium

This century-old theater left a lasting legacy that ended tragically.

In 1908, Reinbolt Hall opened its doors to St. Louis College students. This ceremonious event welcomed 500 attendees to celebrate the new structural addition to the campus. The basement of Reinbolt Hall served as the college auditorium. The college auditorium hosted campus events, theater programs, and commencement ceremonies. Previously, before construction on Reinbolt Hall, St. Louis College had a Dramatic Club and they performed and presented theater programs in the attic of St. Louis Hall, which also served as a gymnasium. The college auditorium had a regal looking curtain with the initials S.L.C. for St. Louis College located at the top center. They used multiple backdrops for production scenes which were also used for class pictures.

The Dramatic Club existed for the purposes of training boys in readiness and fluency in public speaking. The club was organized by pupils of the upper classes. The organization had meetings and were conducted according to strict parliamentary practice. The meetings were held on the first and third Wednesday of each month. The exercises and rehearsals were supervised by instructors and included the following: elocutionary reading; declamation; presentation of scenes from Shakespearean plays; composition and reading of stories and essays; illustrated lectures on scientific subjects; extempore speaking; and debates.

Theater in the early twentieth century, continued a performance tradition of using non-black performers portraying African American characters in their productions wearing blackface. The Dramatic Club at St. Louis College held many productions using blackface and males playing female characters as it was a male-only club at the time. In one 1899 production named, “The Brownies,” the club invited the Marianist Brothers and the San Fernando School, which was a charity school for Mexican American students, to attend the production.

In the late 1920s, the college auditorium continued as the site where the campus hosted theater plays and musical programs. The Chaminade Musical Club, in 1927, also shared the space with the Dramatic Club. The music department, of the newly named St. Mary’s College, held musical programs and conducted rehearsals on the college auditorium stage. During this time, if monologues could not be heard in the basement halls of Reinbolt, the sounds of violins, pianos, and singing harmonic voices penetrated the halls. The Dramatic Club also resumed their rehearsals and productions. They performed programs at the St. Mary’s College auditorium, in addition, to performing off campus. Community presentations were performed at locations such as St. Peter’s Orphanage, Incarnate Word College, Knights of Columbus Hall, St. Michael’s, Our Lady of the Lake College, and Beethoven Hall in downtown San Antonio.

In 1931, administrators created the “Theater Guild” and it included officers and a president like other student organizations. The dean of St. Mary’s College stressed the importance and benefit of the organization and encouraged the participation of students across campus to join. The director of the theater guild emphasized the belief that actors were not the only part of a dramatic club, and that stage managing, ticket selling, advertising, stage designing, electrical work, ushering, and scene shifting were equally important. The theater guild performed one-act plays and vaudeville acts on the college auditorium stage and around the community.

The college auditorium endured a century on campus while carrying on a theatrical legacy of fine arts. In 2011, renovation to Reinbolt Hall and the addition of a new marble alter to Assumption Chapel necessitated the closure of the theater. The weight of the altar caused safety concerns for the theater located directly below the chapel. These safety concerns were that the aged structure could not be reinforced by the weight of the new altar, and further use of the theater would be too risky and dangerous. The curtain fell on a beloved century long landmark at St. Mary’s University.



Collage of Dramatic Club photos in costumes. c. 1915-1916tif / 2.52 MB Download
St. Louis Dramatic Club c. 1916tif / 5.83 MB Download
Old Theater Audio Tour wav / 22.21 MB Download
Old Theater Structure in Reinbolt Hall wav / 40.09 MB Download