A portion of the poster collection began by Jack Freimann (below) still graces the back walls of the Alexander Stage in HJT. Future plans for the main stage area include replacing the chairs and flooring and updating the lighting equipment. (Click to enlarge.)
Talk about stage fright.
Jack Freimann was about 30 feet above the Harper Joy Theatre stage on a ladder when he realized he was stuck. He was holding a cumbersome framed-in-glass theatre poster when his knees started shaking, opposite the rhythm of the shaking of the ladder, the long-time Harper Joy Theatre director remembers.
“That … was scary,” said Freimann.
But somehow, all alone, he managed to change his position, get the poster against the wall and hang it. And he, obviously, lived to hang another one, another day. And then another. And then hundreds more.
Freimann also “wallpapered” hallways with playbills and reviews. Most wall space in most rooms, even bathrooms, is now taken. On one wall are images of more than 100 big-name actors/singers/directors who answered his request to mail their autographed photos in the mid-1980s for the then-new lobby of the theatre. Legendary thespians from Pearl Bailey to Yul Brynner to Anthony Quinn to Sophia Loren are in Harper Joy’s lobby.
Freimann, who retired in 1992 and now works as an actor in New York, decided shortly after coming to work at Whitman in the 1960s that he needed to show students that theatre was more than an extracurricular activity — that it was art, big business, important. So he started collecting posters and playbills from around the world. He believes it worked. “Students became more knowledgeable,” he said.
He still sends posters for the HJT collection, as do alumni, traveling students and faculty. There isn’t room anymore, so posters are being stored in the Cordiner Hall vault. Some of those posters will be seen soon. Students of Matt Reynolds, assistant professor of art history, are in the process of selecting 50 of them to be framed for an exhibition in the Fouts Center for Visual Arts. The exhibit will coincide with the Harper Joy Theatre Reunion April 23-25, 2010.