A Hilarious History Goes Home.

What do Leopold & Loeb’s original 1924 ransom note, Patricia Neal’s 1972 Golden Globe, one of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s 1978 college blue books, and Practical Theatre Company memorabilia, circa 1979-1989, have in common?

This year, everyone who ever worked at The Practical Theatre Company has been accorded a great honor by Northwestern University. For generations to come, a decade’s worth of our adventures (and some misadventures) — from “Clowns” to the musical “Rockme” — are now enshrined among the Special Collections in the Northwestern University Archives.

The written and videotaped record of that brilliant, madcap, kinetic and creative period — from Shanley Hall to the John Lennon Auditorium, from Piper’s Alley to Briar Street – have been lovingly placed upon the venerable shelves of the Old Deering Library. (Not the concrete monstrosity built in 1970 – but the grand cathedral-like edifice, built between 1931 and 1933 and, perhaps apocryphally, derided as an “upside down pig” by Frank Lloyd Wright.)

This vulgarity is not the PTC archive's home. We're in the magnificent old library building. Yeah!

How did this come to pass?

The 4-part PTC history I penned for this blog got the attention of University Archivist, Kevin B. Leonard, who made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: a chance to place the tangible history of the PTC in safekeeping at Northwestern Library, where it can be studied by students, researchers, writers, and anyone with an interest in the exploits of the Practical Theatre, Chicago theatre in the 1980’s, improvisational theatre, and the legend of Tomaloochie Falls.

I’ve been hauling the PTC’s history around in as many as twenty battered cardboard boxes, from house to house, and state to state for over two decades. And it’s a very heavy history.

A couple of years ago, my wise and wonderful wife, Victoria, urged me to clean up our cluttered garage and turn it into a room that our teenage daughters could use for music and recreation.

A key part of that effort involved opening all those dusty, damaged boxes of PTC files, photos, artwork, oddities and rarities and putting them into file cabinets where they’d be out of the way – and protected.

Some of this stuff had not been seen by anyone since it was packed up when we left The John Lennon Auditorium in 1985.

Now that this jumbled mass of an archive was stuffed into file drawers, it was easy to get lost for hours poring over ancient documents, from “Bag O’ Fun” scripts, to PTC Board meeting minutes, and other goodies, including season brochures and posters illustrated by a grand gallery of great artists: Ron Crawford, John Goodrich, Paul Guinan and Gary Whitney, among others. These rediscoveries inspired my blog series on the PTC’s history – and provided the graphic material that brought those articles to life.

But as I transferred those precious pieces of history from cardboard boxes to metal file cabinets, an alarming number of water-damaged documents reminded me of how a flash flood in the basement of my first home in Woodland Hills came dangerously close to destroying this accumulated treasure of legendary theatrical lore. So, when the NU Archives offered to provide a safe home for the documentary history of the PTC, I was happy to get this trove off my hands and into the grasp of professional archivists.

Over the course of six months, working some weekends and grabbing a few hours here and there, I dove into the process of sorting and arranging all those bulging file cabinets full of raw, confused files into something the NU Archives could work with upon receipt. I suppose I could’ve just sent Kevin Leonard the whole, unadulterated pile of Practical – but Mama Barrosse raised me better than that.

Finally, the PTC archives were ready for delivery, along with four boxes of my personal papers, covering my post-PTC adventures and TV shows like Totally Hidden Video, Strange Universe and Behind the Music. I was relieved to know that, after all these years, this archive was headed home to Northwestern, where the whole adventure began.

From: Paul Barrosse
Sent: Thursday, September 15, 2011
To: Kevin B Leonard
Subject: Practical Archives
Hi, Kevin!
I dropped the boxes off at UPS on Monday night — so they probably got shipped to you on Tuesday.
One note: Each box has files arranged alphabetically — but each box goes A-Z.
 For instance, you may find files for “Art, Ruth & Trudy”, “Babalooney” and “Scubba Hey” in several boxes. Generally, this is not the same material, but additional material I discovered as I filled each box.

See you soon, Paul

In mid-September, I flew to Chicago with my daughter Emilia, a junior at Northwestern. I had three good reasons for the trip.

I had to help Emilia move into an off-campus house.

My daughter Emilia on move-in day with an armload of important staples.

I wanted to check out the fabulous Mayne Stage in Rogers Park, where The Vic & Paul Show will run this December 20th through 30th. (Have you gotten your tickets yet?)

Bea Rashid joined us for our visit to the exquisite Mayne Stage cabaret in Rogers Park.

And I wanted to meet with Kevin Leonard and confirm that my boxes had arrived at the NU Archives.

The boxes had arrived. And here they are — in Kevin Leonard’s really cool office in the basement of Deering Library..

Now, the history that so many of us – NU alums and non-alums alike – made together in the 1980’s is now home alongside the papers of such notables at Patricia Neal, Frank Galati and Viola Spolin, the Queen Mother of improvisation.

BTW – Viola’s son, Paul Sills, founded the Story Theatre in the Piper’s Alley space behind Second City: the very same space that became the PTC’s Piper’s Alley Theatre – home of The Golden 50th Anniversary Jubilee, Megafun, and Babalooney. (There are a lot of cool connections to be made at the NU Archives.)

Soon, the list of everything that’s available for study in the PTC archives will be accessible online through a searchable database.

I encourage you to drop by Old Deering Library and pay a visit to the Northwestern Archives. Check out the Special Collections — and get your hands on the history of The Practical Theatre Company. Especially those of you who helped to make that history.

Kevin Leonard might have some really cool things to show you.


Filed under Art, History

16 responses to “A Hilarious History Goes Home.

  1. Kudos to you on such a magnificent and historical undertaking. Yes, Mama Barrosse taught you very well! Congrats….Barbra

  2. Rob

    I think we ought to each bequeath something in our wills to NU Student Theater Arts Alliance or the like in the form of a handful of annual scholarships to be awarded to student impresarios for doing PTC research and submitting an essay to the archives outlining what useful energetic lessons they have derived from your trove, thus insuring that the lore is looked at annually by a bevy of brazen brats hankering for pecuniary practical patronage in their educational endeavors.

  3. Ronny Crawford

    Pretty peppy party eh Paul?
    So glad to have shared in the adventures.
    Well done.

  4. Jerry Getz

    Beautiful, Paul.
    Such a great thing to have done.
    Always and forever.
    Jerry G

  5. Linda

    Very impressive, Paul.

  6. SUPER coolio, Paul. That should make you, indeed all of us, feel venerable. Your own archivist. At NU. In Deering. WOW.

  7. Colorado Mom

    Amazing and congratulations for what you accomplished.

  8. Thanks, folks! This is an honor accorded the entire Practical Theatre family. It is OUR collective work that will be preserved in that beautiful building, accessible to scholars, theatre students, and improvisational comedy fans. Thanks to the PTC staff over the years — people like Angela Murphy, Jamie Baron, Fat Dave Silberger and so many others — we managed to keep such comprehensive files. I was Pack Rat in Chief — but this was an effort that began in 1979 (when the leftover “Clowns” programs did NOT get thrown away) and continued through diligent, if somewhat haphazard filing efforts by a lot of Practicals for the next 10 years.

  9. li'l rushy

    I guess I should look in the Practical trunk that was “bequeathed” to the Crawford’s basement in ’85, then “bequeathed” unto me when they moved to NYC. Then the magical mystery trunk went on the road with me into my building down in Texa. . Hey!! maybe that was why the wildfire came within 500 feet of my place and stopped cold. In the natural order of things PTC archives rate higher with the powers that be than Gov Perry’s “Proclamation For Days Of Prayer For Rain” Oh, Paul, is there room in the NU archives for the large Practical sign that Louie made for the ETC space that hung as you came up the stairs? Somehow I got that too.

    • Ohmigosh, Rush! That trunk is the PTC graphic motherlode! I thought it was lost. I used to toss all the leftover posters, flyers, programs, postcards, mailings, season brochures, etc into that trunk. I’m sure you’ve told me before that you had it, but somehow I got it in my head that it was gone forever. You have in your possession a critical chunk of he PTC archives, my friend. That makes you Deputy Pack Rat in Chief.

  10. Wolf

    In our storage locker in Berkeley is a box or two or three of production info, from the first shows at the JLA, through the Piper’s Alley theatre, and up to Art, Ruth & Trudy. Whenever we move back to the States, and look at all of that again, I’ll send it to Mr. Leonard. There are set and lighting designs, slides, audio show tapes, and all kinds of things.
    Pamela will be especially glad to have them out of the house!
    This is a wonderful development, Paul. thanks for making it happen.
    And by the way, when you are visiting the Special Collections, and looking for a break from the theatrical treasure trove, look up my uncle’s donation. He is a graduate of the School of Speech, RTvF, and was an original subscriber to Playboy. The first 25 years of that magazine are now leather bound, by year, and ensconced in Deering.

  11. Phil

    Great story. Great honor. Emilia looks like her mom…

  12. Anonymous

    Apropos of well, something: My work study job from ’80-84 was in Deering, that cathedral of libes (and I was told that Wright said it looked “like a dead cow on its back” to add another log to that apocropile, many an early AM rose the young redneck from N Georgia to open up the Art Collection, right next door to Special Collections on floor 3, where by reshelving I learned about a host of whack jobs who were visual artists and got to write my Mee-Ow bits in peace while the grad students churned away at their studies at one end of the long tables and the undergrads slept one off at the other end. One time, a predecessor (or maybe still there) of Kevin’s thought I looked idle at my post over in Art world and asked me (rather forcefully) to resort some files in there under “early 70’s Radical Feminism” that touted the wisdom of castrating all males among other things. Maybe Wolf’s uncle’s submission had just been catalogued and she was looking for some tat for tit, but I still have that mixed in with all the other memories in my water-stained cardboard box of a memory bank. Great running into you at LeMoi’s and I still have the groovy coat stand and a “little old Jersey lady” folding laundry/grocery cart on wheels for Emilia in my garage if she wants to check em out! Maybe I will send you pics and she can shop on-line! Congrats on the historicalness of it all. One of the advantages of living before there was paperlessness is that we still have tangible memories, even if you have to fight with your loved ones to keep them in a basement for 30 years…they may matter.

    • Well said, Marty! 4 years at the same work-study job must be some kind of record. My best work study job was at the Comp Shop at Norris Center where I learned the craft of phototypesetting. Now, anyone with a computer can do what I was doing a LOT easier, faster and far less expensively. But it did teach me a trade — and I worked for the gal that ran the Comp Shop when she opened up her own shop, “Just Your Type” between Gigio’s and Sir Speedy on Davis Street. (Just across the street from where I ran into you at LeMoi Hardware.) Had that job for several years when we were getting the PTC off the ground. Thank goodness people needed pros to typeset and paste up their resumes back in those days.

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