By Jessica Serrao
Join us at the Mudd Library as we celebrate the 125th Anniversary of Princeton University’s Triangle Club with an exhibit featuring archival materials from the Triangle Club Records housed in the University Archives. The exhibit walks you through some highlights from the past century and a quarter bringing to light the extensive history of this Princeton standard. Playbills, photographs, sheet music, memorabilia, travel plans, costume sketches, and, of course, punny titles, can all be found in this exhibit, and to a much greater degree in the Triangle Club Records.
The history of the Triangle Club is long and involved, but it’s still kicking today. During the mid-nineteenth century, dramatics at Princeton began in fits and starts as it struggled to take hold within a college steeped in Presbyterian morals. By 1883, religious views softened and Triangle Club’s predecessor formed as the Princeton College Dramatic Association (PCDA). “David Garrick” was PCDA’s first production held May 10, 1883. By 1891, PCDA had joined forces with the University Glee Club to stage its first musical performance, “Po-ca-hon-tas.” It was so successful, it was performed again the next year with revisions.
Facing much opposition from faculty and students as to the organization’s name, PCDA members held a meeting May 25, 1893 to officially change their name to the Triangle Club. “The Honorable Julius Caesar” opened May 3, 1894 as the first production under their new name. The monumental success of this satirical show the year before made good cause to revisit it as the Triangle’s first.
The all-male kickline in Tabasco Land was the first of its kind in Triangle Club history. The Club’s first professional choreographer hired in 1903, Claude M. Alviene, was influenced by Broadway’s Pony ballet, a type of kickline popular at the time. After Tabasco Land, Alviene incorporated the Pony ballet in all his Triangle productions, which began the longstanding kickline tradition.
Triangle’s original musical comedies rely on the many talents of student members. Music and lyrics are written by students as well as the script and storyline. F. Scott Fitzgerald ’17 was heavily involved in three Triangle productions which kept him from his studies. He never made a full tour with the Club due to academic ineligibility.
To bring their productions to a larger audience, the Triangle Club began traveling and touring. In 1906, Triangle Club embarked on one of their first westward tours for Tabasco Land. To aid in a smooth travel experience, they printed trip itineraries complete with train arrival and departure times as well as meal schedules. These itineraries later turned into the larger tour books used today filled with comical travel tips and stories.
The satirical and often ripe political content of Triangle shows carries through the century of storytelling, and often led to complaints from the Princeton community. The originality and comedic style of Triangle shows come through in their punny titles such as “Ain’t Mythbehavin’,” “Malice in Wonderland,” and “American Booty.”
Men have dressed in drag for Triangle productions since 1883, originating out of necessity with the lack of female students and continuing out of tradition long after women joined the club in 1969. These days, women play the female roles in Triangle productions, but the all-male kickline has survived.
Now in its 125th year, Triangle alumni number in the many thousands, and quite a few have earned their living in the entertainment world—on or off the stage and on or behind the camera. But for all the many undergraduates who were part of the Club, Triangle was a singular indulgence where (in the words of Josh Logan, ‘31) they earned “no academic credit, no curriculum, no reward except the doing of it.”
“A Lotta Kicks: 125 Years of the Triangle Club” is currently on display in the Wiess Lounge in the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library. The exhibition is open during the library’s regular hours, Monday-Friday, 9:00am-4:45pm. Please note that we will close for the Thanksgiving holiday on November 24-25.
The gallery below offers some selected highlights from the Triangle Club Records (AC122).
Armstrong, April C. “Howard Edwards Gansworth and the ‘Indian Problem’ at Princeton.”
Armstrong, April C. “Sue Jean Lee and the Women of Triangle Club.”
Linke, Dan. “F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Princeton Career and the Triangle Club.”
Triangle Club Records (AC122)
van Rossum, Helene. “Kicking Off the McCarter Era: Triangle Footage 1929-circa 1950.”
van Rossum, Helene. “Triangle’s ‘All in Favor,’ 1948-1949.”