The program now known as McLeod Summer Playhouse has evolved over the past thirty-plus years from two SIU performing companies. Prior to 1970 the Department of Theater and the School of Music sponsored separate summer productions. The theater summer program grew from productions both on and off campus in the nineteen fifties and sixties, and the music summer productions were done on campus during that same period.
The Communications Theater (now named McLeod Theater) opened in 1970 and the theater company did a bill of three or four plays at the same time that music company (known as Summer Music Theater) produced four musicals in Muckelroy Auditorium on campus. The Dean of the College of Communications and Fine Arts suggested that Theater and Music both produce in the Communications Theater for the following summer. While both companies remained separate, in the summer of 1971 they produced a combined season of eight productions (4 plays and 4 musicals - one per weekend) in the Communications Theater. In the summer of 1972 Music and Theater combined their forces and the SIU Summer Playhouse was created. That summer (the University's last one on the twelve-week quarter system) the performing company consisted of thirty student actor, singer, dancers who were auditioned both on and off campus. The technical crew was made up of students from the Theater Department and the orchestra was students from the School of Music. The directing, technical and musical staffs came from the respective campus departments. That summer the combined company produced three musicals and three plays.
In 1972 the university changed to a two-semester system with an eight-week summer session. The Summer Playhouse established a four show format (two musicals and two plays) which continued for the most part into the mid-eighties. The performing company numbered 24-26 auditioned members from on and off campus, and the orchestra and technical crew continued to be made up of SIU students. The directing and artistic staff was mostly faculty from the two departments. The name was changed to McLeod Summer Playhouse shortly after the retirement of long-time Theater Department chair, Archibald McLeod.
These summers of cooperative collaboration lead to a close professional relationship between the music and theater departments. Music students were encouraged to become in involved in theater and likewise, theater students could receive musical training and be involved in School of Music productions during the year. The summer collaborations eventually lead to the development of inter-disciplinary degree programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
The productions have, over the years, developed a strong and loyal community and regional following and have played to large audiences each summer. Due to university budget constraints, the McLeod Summer Playhouse eliminated one of the plays from its summer season doing two musicals and one play from 1985 to 1991, and again, due to a further reduced budget, reduced their playbill to only two musicals for 1992 and 1993. The playbill resumed its two musicals and a play format in 1994, and continued this number of productions until it was closed down after the summer of 2000 due to the renovation of the McLeod lighting and fly system, but even had that not been schedule, the university did not have available funding for salary. The community was shocked, and many letters and petitions expressed their fondness for the program, requesting SIU administration to bring fund MSP.
In early 2005 SIU administration proposed to provide some startup money, asking if MSP could reemerge in some new way. MSP leadership was established with Mark Varns (Chair of Theater) and Tim Fink, (Assoc. Prof. Opera/Music Theater in the School of Music), a budget formulated with a much smaller SIU contribution, and a new paradigm for a season. MSP ticket holders on file from summer 2000 box office records were alerted the news and solicited for funds with a goal of raising $10,000. Over $20,000 was raised, and from that list of individuals a Friend's of MSP Board was formed with a president. In addition to their personal contributions, this board has helped with promotion and advocacy for the MSP revival, as well as fund raising events.
During the ensuing years, support from the Friends of McLeod Summer Playhouse, its Board and sponsors has continued to help maintain MSP's high level of professional standards which has enhanced the company's reputation on the regional and national level. We're proud to be Southern Illinois' professional summer theater.