To mark the 20th birthday of the founding of The National Thespian Society, National Council Senior Councilor Marion L. Stuart of Champaign Senior High School in Illinois penned this open letter to Thespians about the honor and responsibility of society membership.

DEAR THESPIANS:

Do you recall that part of your Thespian initiation ritual that reads, “If the sparks of the past are to be kept alive and glowing, and if the light of drama is to brighten the way for mankind, we must ever add new fuel to the flame?” Did you stop, as an understudy, to realize what it means to be named by the National Thespian Society as the newly assigned attendant of the light?

As an attendant of the flame of drama, you pledged yourself to the responsibilities of the past and to the privileges of the present. You promised to pattern your dramatic activities according to the rights and privileges of all concerned. You pledged yourself to follow the motto of the National Thespian Society, and in every assignment you promised to “act well your part, for there all honor lies.” Why?

These questions were asked of the members of Troupe 106 of Champaign Senior High School. Individual replies were indicative of the superior high school pupils that affiliate with the society and the high ideals that the society advances.

Practically, every member responded to the question by pointing to the great pride that each experienced when he was named a Thespian member. It was a pride of personal achievement. A satisfaction that came to the individual because he had set a goal for himself and through his own efforts and work had been able to achieve that goal. We of the National Council recognize your pride and respect you for it, for it is our belief that our democracy becomes a better democracy when its citizens are trained to set personal standards for achievement and then exert self-discipline to meet those standards. Before you were able to feel this pride of membership, you had to set your standards high and disciplined yourself to meet such standards satisfactorily. Some of the standards of production which you met included getting to rehearsals on time, practicing diligently while you were there, and serving your school and community willingly with hours of extra work while you learned to work and play together. Because you wanted to be a Thespian, you learned how to “act well your part” and in the process of learning you became a better citizen of your school and community.

On becoming a Thespian, you learned to give freely of your talents, for your new society was pledged to promote the best in friendly relationships between departments of our school and between your school and your community. Yes, you learned that your Thespian troupe was often called upon to provide programs for your community. You learned to contribute to philanthropic work as you worked on fundraising drives, or you entertained shut-ins in hospitals, or you provided entertainment for community meetings. Your Thespian troupe was an active organization, and you wanted to be a member of that activity. As a Thespian, you were using your talent to brighten momentarily the way of mankind. Drama demands vitality and enthusiasm of its torchbearers. Your desire for activity made you a torchbearer. Jean Weiss of Troupe 106 said, “Ever since my older sister used to tell me of the things of service that Thespians would do, I have made it one of my ambitions to become a member. Now that ambition is realized. I am truly grateful to be a Thespian.”

Members of Thespian Troupe 106 at Champaign Senior High School in 1942. Marion L. Stuart appears in the front row to the left.
Members of Thespian Troupe 106 at Champaign Senior High School in 1942. Marion L. Stuart appears in the front row to the left.

It is an honor to be a member of Thespians. Babette Stipes and Rosann Gelvin respect the high regard that the name Thespian carries in Champaign High School. Such an honor is a tribute to former Thespian members who were responsible for building the Thespian name. Other members have met their responsibilities and have given the best to their assignments. Such members have been interested in building the name of Thespians and not in perpetuating personal glories. In the early Thespian learning “of acting according to the rights and privileges of all concerned,” the present troupe enjoys a position of honor. Newly initiated Thespian Betty Wiedrich expressed the sentiment when she said, “When I made Thespians, finally, I felt no honor could be greater.” Self-importance of earlier members was lost to the greater importance of building the troupe as a whole.

There is pleasure that comes when one is a Thespian member. Jim Mingee states that he is most happy to know that he “is one member of an organization that is made up of thousands of other high school members all over the United States who are united in the common bond of working for a common goal of creating a spirit of active and intelligent interest in dramatics.” It is the spirit of brotherhood that Jim appreciates. This spirit is built in part by local troupe activities in the exchange of programs, friendly get-togethers and “good neighbor” policies. This spirit is also built through the organization’s publication of Dramatics, which carries in addition to many articles, reports of troupe activities. Such a spirit of brotherhood is a healthy attitude in that school procedures provide experiences in democratic living.

Perhaps the best measure of being a true Thespian member may be found in the statement of Judy Carothers when she said, “It is not in acknowledgment of the time and effort which I have given the dramatics department, for I have enjoyed every minute that I have spent working there, which was rewarded by Thespian membership; but that having received my membership, I shall not stop working but shall work that much harder.” In such members, the National Thespian Society has its greatest assets. The National Council realizes that in being a Thespian, the high school student is not only rewarded for the work which he has already done, but that in becoming a Thespian member he has expressed his desire to do ever greater work. This is the sustenance or the fuel by which Thespians feed the flames of drama.

This story appeared in the February 1949 print version of Dramatics. Learn about the print magazine and other Thespian benefits on the International Thespian Society website.

International Thespian Society 90th birthday logo
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