St. Olaf Magazine | Spring/Summer 2021

St. Olaf Theater: A Centennial Celebration, 1921–2021

“Drama is not a matter of showing off or exhilaration — but it is a process of sharing joys and sorrows with others.” — Elizabeth Walsingham Kelsey (1885–1953), director of dramatics for more than 30 years and a 1940 graduate of St. Olaf College

A new book, thoughtfully organized by the Patrick J. Quade Endowed Chair of Theater Karen Peterson Wilson ’77, celebrates 100 years of theater at St. Olaf College. Represented in decades, beginning with the genesis of St. Olaf Theater in 1880, the selections celebrate the range of productions and honor generations of artists who have contributed to St. Olaf Theater.

“This project is built on the shoulders of all those who have worked hard to preserve the history and valued the creative work of theater artists. The result is a tremendous treasure,” says Peterson Wilson. “May the work, creativity, and artistic expression that is theater exist forever.”

Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Elizabeth Walsingham Kelsey in 1924, ushered in a long tradition of outdoor spring productions in Norway Valley.

When St. Olaf unveiled its first-ever all-college dramatic presentation in April 1921, few people could have envisioned how the following century would unfold for the fledgling theater program. St. Olaf Theater is recognized today as one of the most respected in the collegiate arts, with milestones ranging from premieres to unique set designs to acclaimed acting and directing.

The St. Olaf Theater production of Godspell, directed by Patrick Quade ’65, was chosen as one of 10 national winners in the American College Theatre Festival. The Theater Department took the show on the road in an unprecedented tour, performing 19 shows at 17 locations, traveling over 2,000 miles throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin, and performing for nearly 11,000 people.

In St. Olaf Theater: A Centennial Celebration, 1921–2021, writer Jeffrey M. Sauve, former longtime college archivist, weaves together entertaining and fascinating stories. These include the groundbreaking radio broadcast of Shakespeare’s As You Like It in 1922; the spellbinding chronicles of the supposed ghost of Kelsey Theater; the unwavering dedication of faculty pioneers like Elizabeth Walsingham Kelsey, Ralph H. Haugen, and Patrick Quade ’65; and illuminating conversations with alumni. From cover to cover, the book is replete with engaging photographs that provide a snapshot of the theater’s 100-year history.

Copies of St. Olaf Theater: A Centennial Celebration, 1921–2021 can be purchased online through By All Means Graphics.