Exhibit Announcement: Bonstelle Theatre Posters, 1961-1965
The Wayne State University Archives is proud to announce the opening of a new exhibit of posters from the Bonstelle Theatre. A selection of posters from the early 1960s is available for viewing in the Woodcock Gallery of the Walter P. Reuther Library, and online in the Reuther's digital photo gallery.
The Bonstelle Theatre, at 3424 Woodward Avenue, was the first permanent home of the Wayne State University Theatre. It was initially constructed as the Temple Beth El, designed by Albert Kahn and completed in 1903. When the congregation outgrew the structure, a new temple was built; in 1924, the former temple was converted to a theater and became the Bonstelle Playhouse, named for Jessie Bonstelle, its managing director. After her death in 1932, the space housed the Mayfair Motion Picture Theatre. The building had been vacant for years before being leased by Wayne University for theatrical performance in 1951. The University ultimately purchased it in 1956. Although the theater was briefly known as The Wayne University Theatre, it was soon renamed in memory of Jessie Bonstelle.
The nine posters in the exhibit date from 1961-1965, a particularly strong period in the history of the Wayne State University Theatre. In the 1961-1962 season alone, the Theatre (including its active Student Stage as well as the Bonstelle Theatre) mounted 36 productions for a total of 154 performances. By 1965, after the addition of the Hilberry Classic Theatre, total annual attendance at the university's theatrical performances exceeded 130,000 audience members.
Of the posters currently on display, King Lear and Don Giovanni were performed in the 1961-1962 season; Purlie Victorious, The Imaginary Invalid, Waiting for Godot, Summer and Smoke, and Caesar and Cleopatra were all performed in the 1963-1964 season; and Jack and the Beanstalk and The Member of the Wedding were performed in the 1964-1965 season. As is evident from this selection of shows, the Bonstelle was home to plays in a remarkable variety of genres, from the tragedies of Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams to the comedies of Molière and Ossie Davis; from Mozart opera to children's theater; from the classical to the contemporary.
The original posters were screenprinted and displayed in the lobby of the Bonstelle Theatre. Unfortunately, the artists didn't sign their names to the posters, but the styles of the illustrators can be recognized from picture to picture -- for example, the cartoonish faces in the illustrations for Don Giovanni and The Imaginary Invalid, and the curlicues in the details and lettering for Jack and the Beanstalk and The Member of the Wedding. You can view the posters online, or visit the Leonard Woodcock Gallery on the first floor of the Walter P. Reuther Library.
2013 is the 110th anniversary of the construction of what is now the Bonstelle Theatre, and 2013-2014 will mark the 50th season of the Hilberry Theatre. The Wayne State University Archives maintains an extensive collection of photographs, programs, and other records of the history of the Wayne State University Theatre. For more information on the history of Wayne State University and other aspects of arts, culture, and life in Detroit, please visit the Reuther Library Reading Room.
Casey Westerman is the Wayne State University Archivist.