Concise Encyclopedia of Tufts History

Sauer, Anne

Branco, Jessica

Bennett, John

Crowley, Zachary


Pen, Paint, and Pretzels, 1910


Pen, Paint, and Pretzels was founded in 1910 by five members of the class of 1911. The organization's goal was to "encourage dramatic interest at Tufts College by the production of original plays by students or graduates of Tufts or Jackson." Pen was to signify the writers; paint, the artists; and pretzels, the audience.

Although prior to 1910 there had been a few drama organizations at Tufts, they were short-lived and generally unsuccessful. In the spring of that year, Clifford Amsden, Walston Brown, Harold Gallupe, Charles Gott, and John Libby came together to form Pen, Paint, and Pretzels, designed to be a more permanent organization. With the help of Professor Leo R. Lewis, the five juniors organized auditions and found a stage space in Jackson Gym. Their first production, "Teamwork," written by Gott and Gallupe, premiered December 15, 1910. By 1912, the founders had graduated, but Pen, Paint, and Pretzels had earned enough money to install lighting and dimmers on the Jackson stage, and was also able to purchase costume and scenery materials. Although the organization did not only perform plays by Tufts authors, Pen, Paint, and Pretzels quickly became very popular around campus, playing to full houses and garnering excellent reviews.

With the outbreak of World War I, Pen, Paint, and Pretzels began to take their performances on the road. They performed at nearby barracks for soldiers, and did benefit shows to encourage the purchase of war bonds. After the war, Pen, Paint, and Pretzels continued to perform charity shows at locations all around New England. In 1921, future Tufts president Leonard Carmichael was elected president of the organization, and in 1924, their performance of "Romeo and Juliet" was broadcast over AMRAD's station, WGI. It was one of the first times a play was broadcast live over the airwaves.

Since 1915, Pen, Paint, and Pretzels worked closely with the Masque, the drama society of Jackson College. The two groups collaberated on many plays, fundraising and holding auditions jointly. Finally, in 1930, the two organizations merged under the Pen, Paint, and Pretzels name, increasing the organization's membership and funding. Since then, Pen, Paint, and Pretzels has remained a co-ed organization.

During World War II, Pen, Paint and Pretzels decreased their performances as students concentrated on the war effort. Their performance of "Heavenly Express" in 1941 was interrupted to broadcast Roosevelt's announcement that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. Immediately following the war, enrollment at Tufts swelled, and demand for seating at Pen, Paint, and Pretzels events greatly increased. For some of its performances, the organization packed up and moved to Pearson Hall in order to accommodate a larger audience.

In 1948, the Department of Athletics finally vacated Jackson Gym, which was already informally known as the Tufts Theater. The facility was given over to the Department of Drama and Speech, but early in 1949, the stage was condemned, forcing the department to stage plays on a raised oval in the middle of the gym floor. This new setup was the first appearance of an arena theater in New England, and Pen, Paint, and Pretzels productions were photographed for use in "Amerika," a State Department publication about American culture designed for Soviet citizens.

Pen, Paint, and Pretzels continued to stage its productions in the Tufts Arena Theater until its destruction in 1991. Drama productions were then moved to the Marston Balch Arena Theater, constructed in the Aidekman Arts Center the same year. The new theater contains state of the art lighting and stage equipment, and is named after a former Pen, Paint, and Pretzels faculty advisor. As of 2000, the organization's productions continue to be a popular attraction at Tufts University.

Source: UA#0019/009

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  • The encyclopedia seeks to capture more than 150 years of Tufts' achievements, societal contributions and outstanding alumni and faculty in concise entries. As a source of accurate factual information, the Encyclopedia can be used by anyone interested in the history of Tufts and of the people who have made it the unique institution it is.
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Donald A. Cowdery Memorial Scholarship, 1946
Dr. Benjamin Andrews Professorship of Surgery, 1987
Dr. Philip E. A. Sheridan Prize, 1977
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