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As Oregon State University commemorates its 150th anniversary, Robert Leff wants people to appreciate that it is more than just a "cow college."

So he decided to honor the milestone by curating a photography exhibit of the historical tie between OSU and the Majestic Theatre in downtown Corvallis.

"I thought, wouldn't it be neat to do an exhibit of shows from the college that had been done at the Majestic," Leff said.

A theater director and historian, Leff ran the idea by Jimbo Ivy, Majestic Theatre supervisor. Ivy thought that it would be great.

Leff also spoke with people from OSU's Special Collections & Archives Research Center about looking through its holdings for images, and they gave the green light as well.

The exhibit, "The College Plays The Majestic, 1914-1949," is on view at the Majestic Theatre. The 25 photos featured are copies of the originals from OSU's archives.

Leff will present the photographs along with additional information and stories about the productions, from 1:30 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 27.

Leff, a Corvallis High School graduation, received his undergraduate degree in speech education (theater) from OSU in 1971.

He had a bit of a head start in terms of knowing where to start looking in the archives, thanks to research he did for a short paper he wrote more than 20 years ago. The paper, "A Brief History of the Majestic Theatre," was about the building and its opening.

"Because the theater opened in August of 1913, I thought, 'Let me see what else I can find,'" he said.

During his research, Leff learned about a group on campus called the Oregon Agricultural College Mask and Dagger Dramatic Club, which staged a production at the Majestic on Jan. 15, 1914.

As far as he can tell, that was the first college play performed at the Majestic Theatre.

So when Leff returned to the archives to locate items for the photo exhibit, he focused on the meeting minutes for the Mask and Dagger Dramatic Club. But he couldn't determine why it selected a French farce called "A Scrap of Paper" for its first production.

"I have no idea why they picked that play or why they decided to do it at the Majestic," he said.

Apparently, club members moved the curtain time to 8:30 p.m., so people could go to the college men's basketball game and then come downtown to see the play, Leff said.

Leff said all of the sets, scenery and costumes for plays were built on campus and transported to the Majestic Theatre. Faculty and students would wait until the final showing of a film, would fly out the screen, and then work all night to put everything up. 

Typically, a play would be performed on Friday and Saturday nights. At the end of the Saturday night show, they would strike the sets and fly the screen back in time for the Sunday matinee, he said. 

The exhibit stretches to May 1949, the day of the last Oregon State play performed at the Majestic.

"It became too expensive to do the plays at the Majestic, and I guess the ownership was not interested in having the shows done there," Leff said.

He added that Oregon State was able to stage plays in a small 300-seat theater in Benton Hall, which served as the administration building at the time.

Leff emphasized that the 25-photo exhibit isn't meant to be a definitive history of theater at Oregon State. In fact, he confessed, the photos selected of plays, mostly staged by the speech and theater department, are the ones he found most interesting.

Gabriela Oh, Majestic Theatre marketing coordinator, served as a creative consultant and helped Leff select photos to exhibit.

Leff said other OSU groups also presented shows at the Majestic.

For example, the school of music performed Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.

"We've got pictures from that," he said.

Gilbert and Sullivan's "H.M.S. Pinafore" was performed at the Majestic in 1928. The production then went on tour by train to several Eastern Oregon cities, Leff said.

An event called the "Women's Stunt Shows," an evening of skits put on by campus women's groups, also is included in the exhibit.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the junior class at the college performed a show called the "Junior Follies."

"They were all male cast members. The female roles were played by men in drag," Leff said.

The exhibit also features five photos of Oregon Agricultural College/Oregon State College faculty and their stage productions. Each has a small biography attached.

Leff, who has lived in Corvallis since 1960, hopes the exhibit broadens the perceptions that some people have of Oregon State.

"What people don't realize is arts have always been a part of the college," he said. "I hope they'll get to see there's more to Oregon State than cows, engineering and agriculture."


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