Drama History


Riverdale’s rich history of theatre, dates back as early as 1920.  “The neighborhood was always a hotbed of stagestruck people. Children, teachers, and parents all trod the boards.”   The first children’s play, “The Toy Shop” was presented in the school in December 1920.  This three-act musical was attended by hundreds of parents and friends, despite a winter storm.  Riverdale was fortunate to have an outdoor Greek amphitheatre behind the school grounds.  It is here that many outdoor plays were staged by Mrs. Stillman in the early 1930’s who was both the principal and English teacher.    Shakespeare’s As You Like It, a musical comedy parody, Julius Caesar and an operetta The Snow Queen were several of the memorable outdoor productions performed at Riverdale.  Many of the plays were also performed indoors for Open House and were inspired by subjects that the students were studying, such caveman and pilgrims.  The Pied Piper, Robin Hood, Little Women, and The Pirates of Penzance are several examples of plays to hit the Riverdale stage over the years.  The PTC encouraged theatrical endeavors and sponsored student workshops by Ashland Shakespearean actors who would perform for the Riverdale community.

Riverdale theatre was not limited to children, but also attracted adults in the Riverdale community.  “Drama with a capital D really came into its own with Mrs. Mortimer Hartwell’s annual productions.”  As neighborhood theatre coach, Mrs. Hartwell “drew forth dramatic intensity from all her actors, even the reluctant ones.”  Despite the fact that her own children appeared to lack her dramatic talents, she persevered, directing many Riverdale Community plays throughout the 1930’s.  In 1936, a historical Riverdale dramatic highpoint occurred when Mrs. Hartwell revived the comedy Hazel Kirk—or the Iron Will by Steele McKaye:  “We ‘revived’ the play for Riverdale.  We had marvelous stage effects supplied by every attic—gorgeous costumes—and read our parts from type script”  The ticket sales of this play, along with Mrs. Hartwell’s many other popular productions, financially benefited the school in the form of donations to the PTC.

Bledsoe, Helen Wieman. Riverdale School 1888-1988. Portland: Binford and Mort, 1988. Print