Playing our Part

As performance venues prepare to reopen in Michigan today, I thought it timely to take a look at the storied history of a group that’s nearly as old as Cranbrook itself: St. Dunstan’s Theatre Guild of Cranbrook. With ties to Cranbrook’s founding family, staff, and the physical Cranbrook campus, combined with its enduring cultural role in the surrounding community, this nearly ninety-year-old institution has a rich history. Allow me to share with you a few fascinating details from its early years.

View of St. Dunstan’s Playhouse from Lone Pine Road looking east. Balthazar Korab, photographer. Copyright Korab and Cranbrook Archives.

“The worst thing about it, it’s named for a saint. But don’t think it’s holy, ‘cause it certainly ain’t.”

Sheldon Noble, an early and active Guild member

The Theatre Guild was indeed named after St. Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury in the ninth century and patron saint of the arts. As St. Dunstan lived in Kent, England, from where Cranbrook founder George Booth’s family hailed, the Guild’s name was fittingly suggested by his son and founding member, Henry Scripps Booth. Shortly after the Guild began in 1932, members were writing and producing their own one-act plays. In an April 1933 letter announcing an informal evening  of a “Home Talent programme,” for the 100 Guild members and their guests, Jessie Winter, Guild Secretary and Brookside School Headmistress, implores them to “Be kind, be understanding, be generous . . . give the actors and authors the warm reception which such offerings warrant.” One such author was Henry Scripps Booth. Billed as Thistle, his play, Sedative Bed, was one of four being performed that April 28th evening at Brookside School for just $1. It was the tail end of the Great Depression, after all!

The first public performance of St. Dunstan’s Theatre Guild took place at the Greek Theatre with The King and the Commoner. Taking supporting roles were the likes of Annetta Wonnberger (Cranbrook Summer Theater School), Pipsan Saarinen Swanson (daughter of Cranbrook architect Eliel Saarinen), and Henry Scripps Booth, among others.

A scene from The King and the Commoner. Henry Booth on right. Detroit newspaper rotogravure clipping. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

The cast and crew of the 1940 production of The Last of Mrs. Cheyney again reads like a who’s who of Cranbrook, including Harry Hoey (Cranbrook School Headmaster), Templin Licklider (Cranbrook School Faculty), Dorothy Sepeshy (wife of Cranbrook Academy of Art President, Zoltan Sepeshy), Rachel Raseman (wife of Richard Raseman, Cranbrook Academy of Art Executive Secretary and Vice President), the aforementioned Annetta Wonnberger, and various members of the Booth Family. Henry Scripps Booth, part of the Guild’s Scenic Design Committee, and his wife Carolyn, the production’s stage manager, created the sets.

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Cranbrook’s Crazy Clubs

Most high schools have a lot of clubs in order to foster the interests of their students. Since opening in 1927, Cranbrook School for Boys has had its fair share of extracurricular activities. There has been a Biology Club, a Pre-Med Club, and a club for the boys that had earned their Varsity letter (called the “C” Club). But, there have also been some clubs that were not so traditional.

Amateur radio, also known as ham radio, was quite popular at one time. The boys at Cranbrook started their own Radio Club with the help of Science teacher William Schultz, Jr.

Boys sit around a ham radio.

Radio Club members listening to the radio, July 1935. You can see the station’s call sign on the wall: W8LME. Photograph by Harvey Croze. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Then there was the Model Club, which was for boys who enjoyed making models, judging from the picture, mostly of airplanes.

A group of boys standing behind a table of model airplanes

The Model Club, 1952. From left: Faculty Advisor Richard Gregg, David Higbie, Don Young, David Morris, President Richard Gielow, Adams McHenry, Don Hart, Pete Dawkins, Dahmen Brown, Jerry Phillips. Photograph by Harvey Croze. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

A Drama Club is not an unusual thing to have at a school, but Cranbrook’s club has an interesting name: Ergasterion Club. Ergasterion is the Greek name for the workshop of craftsman.

Group of boys sitting on a stage.

The Ergasterion “Erg” Club is Cranbrook School’s dramatic society, April 1960. First row, left to right: Louis Beer, Templin Licklider, Jr.; second row: Rick Strong, Bill MacLachlan, Henry Weil, Mike Hilder, Phil Weisenbarger, Richard Foster; third row: Gregg Carr, Boris Nicoloff, Bill Thompson, George Roth, Mitchell Grayson. Photograph by Harvey Croze. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

I guess a Rifle Club is not that unusual either, but their yearbook photo was just too great not to share!

A group of boys posing with rifles on a hill

Cranbrook Rifle Club, November 1968. Photograph by Harvey Croze. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

In the great state of Michigan, we have a lot of lakes. That is what must have inspired the creation of the SCUBA Club.

Group of boys in SCUBA gear standing in a fountain. of

Cranbrook School SCUBA Club, 1968. From left Thomas O’Hara 69′, Robert O’Hara 70′, Edward Soudeck (language instructor), Thomas Strickland 70′, Marlin Atkinson 70′, Donald Rosiello 70′, and Richard Genthe 70′. Photograph by Harvey Croze. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Today, Cranbrook Schools (co-ed since 1984) continues to have a wide variety of extracurriculars; just ask the members of “The Beyond Earth Club (Space Club)” or the Namtenga Club.

– Leslie Mio, Associate Registrar

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