PLEASE NOTE THIS SITE IS NEITHER AFFILIATED WITH NOR AUTHORIZED BY CHARLES SIEBERT
All photos (with the exception of those photos noted as being from the collection of Charles Siebert) and all Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Sentinel articles quoted in this section are courtesy of the Marquette University Archives Department of Special Collections. Please note that one-time use for this webpage was requested by and granted to the site curator for this specific use; for any other reproduction or use, please contact the Department of Special Collections at Marquette.
My most sincere thanks to the Special Collections staff at the Raynor Memorial Library at Marquette University, particularly Michelle Sweetser and Amy Cooper Cary. The University library’s comprehensive and accessible on-line catalog allowed me to review the material and select exactly what I needed to see, and the staff patiently engaged in an e-mail dialogue with me about my planned trip to the library, made helpful suggestions, and had all my selected materials pulled and waiting for me when I arrived at 8:30AM on Monday, January 7, 2013, even though the library was just reopening after its holiday closure. The wonderful cooperation of the University’s library staff allowed me to whip through all the material in the too-short number of hours I was able to dedicate to this task. Allow me to add, too, that the third floor reading room is a delightful environment in which to pursue research!
Father John J. Walsh and the Marquette University Players
Marquette University, the Jesuit college in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, founded in 1881, has had theatrical presentations throughout its history. The Marquette Players initiated in 1925 by Ruth Klein, who directed the group until1946, with performances held in the medical college’s auditorium, as interest in the Players grew. Father John Walsh, the first Jesuit priest to receive a doctorate in theater from Yale University (and I would imagine, the first priest of any order to do so at Yale, and possibly the first Jesuit priest to do so in the US, let alone Yale) arrived in 1951 and headed the Players until his transfer to teaching in the Jesuit seminary in St. Louis in 1965. (For a more thorough presentation of the history of Marquette and the Marquette Players, please see the University’s own site; you can start with the library’s informative catalog at www.marquette.edu/library/archives/SuperC/UNIV-C-11-1.shtml. For more information on Father Walsh, much information is available on the internet, but a pleasant overview is in the February, 2010 Marquette Journal in an article by Sara J. Martinez, which can be found at http://issuu.com/marquettejournal/docs/feb2010/search?q=walsh.)
Father Walsh’s colorful story is related in a documentary produced by local PBS affiliate WMVS in 2000. The documentary is titled “Two Hammers and a Sawhorse” because when Father Walsh arrived at Marquette, he was shown two hammers and a sawhorse and told, “There’s your theater.” In fact, the original theater (which, today, is the parish center for the Church of The Gesu on the Marquette campus) was built largely, if not entirely, by Father Walsh and his students. (Surviving production programs document the assistance of large numbers of religious sisters in set construction and costume production; possibly these would be members of the community –Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary – that, at that time, staffed Holy Angels Academy, which Mr. Siebert informs us was a feeder school for Marquette, and the alma mater of the first Mrs. Siebert. Mr. Siebert informs us, though, that there were many religious attending Marquette and Father Walsh’s classes, as well.) Under Father Walsh’s guidance, Marquette Players’ productions achieved professional quality and national acclaim; the archives show that the major Milwaukee papers, the Journal and the Sentinel, reviewed these college players as if they were a national touring company. On one occasion, Father Walsh famously approached Oscar Hammerstein II in person for permission to perform Carousel, becoming the first amateur company to do so (Marquette Warrior, March 2009).
Of all the encomiums upon Father Walsh after his death in 2005 at the age of 91, perhaps the most expressive is the one distributed by his religious community, the Jesuits: “His was a spirituality of the senses. He entered into every experience with gusto. Nothing was held back. In the 1960s, John anticipated what we now call the ‘holistic’ approach. From him his students learned that profound knowledge is communicated through total emotional engagement. He taught with his body. He was a reveler, a Pied Piper, a visionary. His energy was urgent, contagious, and seemingly boundless, as was his capacity for spontaneous acts of generosity.” (Memorial distributed by the Missouri Province of the Society of Jesus, www.jesuitsmissouri.org/files/obits/obWalshJohn.pdf.) An accompanying photo shows Father Walsh in a literally spritly pose, teaching a dance class at what appears to be a ripe old age.
I can hardly do justice to this highly respected and beloved man in the confines of this site. Far, far more information about Father Walsh and his career at Marquette is available via Marquette University and in many other places; a simple entry into one’s search engine should be sufficient.
Charles Siebert and the Marquette Players
Marquette’s archives contain scrapbooks starting from 1950, scripts and production notes beginning in 1956, and the wonderful Walter Sheffer photographs beginning from 1952. (I can’t speak highly enough of the beauty of these large-format original photographs, and I encourage anyone who loves theatrical photos to pay a visit to the Marquette archives.) What has been retained in the records is sporadic, and it would make a fun and interesting research project to try to fill in the missing pieces. For one production, only a handbill may survive; for another, a script and stage blocking notes, but no cast list; for others, photos with the actors’ names on the back, and other photos with no names but in which the actor may be identified by comparing to other, credited, photos. There are news clippings which unfortunately were trimmed of their dates and page numbers; old (probably contemporary) typescript labels were affixed with rubber cement, which has begun to part ways with the original paper. In one instance, a full, untrimmed tear sheet of a Milwaukee Journal article bore a date that proved the typescript label on a trimmed copy to be incorrect. Some of Mr. Siebert’s appearances must be deduced by recognizing him in photos, as no cast list or playbill was preserved. I’m sure that some of the alumni, many of whom pursued successful careers in the performing arts or as teachers of the same, could provide the missing information.
The first thing that struck me, as I began going through boxes of folders full of records and memorabilia related to the Marquette Players’ productions of 1957 – 1962, was the sheer number and great variety of plays performed each academic year. (As an example of variety, in 1958 Booth Tarkington’s Seventeen was followed by King Lear.) Although the Marquette Players used actors from the general community and a smattering of semi-professionals alongside students in most of their productions, the surviving programs shows a core group of ‘regulars’ who seem to be students, doubling and tripling up as actors, set designers, seamstresses, ushers, and every other activity related to putting on a play. How the students managed to attend their other classes and get their papers and other work done, if in fact they did so, I suppose only they could tell us.
The first record I found of Mr. Siebert’s appearance on stage was the January 18, 1958 student production of ‘Buffalo Bill’, which seems to have been a children’s entertainment. Mr. Siebert is among a group of performers billed as “neighbors”. (Mr. Siebert was kind enough to identify his actual first performance as ‘Charlie’ in Seventeen. None the less, a program dated January 18 does exist in the archives with Mr. Siebert’s name on it. Perhaps it was misdated for January 18, 1959, which would make sense if it was the ‘road show’ of the December 1958 Annie Get Your Gun that Mr. Siebert remembers performing at local schools.)
For two weekends, February 7-16, 1958, the Players performed the above-mentioned Seventeen, with Siebert in the role of ‘Charlie’ (billed as “Chuck Siebert”). A Sheffer photo of one of the scenes shows an unidentified but recognizable Charles Siebert in the foreground, shown from the rear in ¾ profile, and yes, I did recognize him immediately, no comment, thank you. This production was praised by local reviewers for its general liveliness and use of the aisles to extend the performance space in the small Teatro Maria.
March, 1958, brought a refreshing change of pace with Lear. The Milwaukee Sentinel (3/2/58, no byline) states that “Charles Siebert as Cornwall…and several others did exceedingly well and added to the ensemble.” We are reminded, amusingly, of changing standards by another Sentinel article (3/8/58, Cyrus F. Rice): “Male members of the Marquette university [sic] Players who are appearing in ‘King Lear’ will be wearing real beards for the arena-style production at the Teatro Maria. This authenticity is the result of an order by Leo Jones, the director, and has been obeyed in spite of some heckling by friends of the actors.” (Beards were prohibited to male students at Marquette until the late 1960s, according to a nostalgic look-back in the Spring 2007 Marquette Magazine.) Close observation of the photos in the archives leaves me with some doubt that all of those beards were real, and if they were, well, no wonder their friends heckled them.
June of 1958 brought with it the Marquette Players’ ambitious Drama Festival, which must have taken quite a bit of preparation (and right through final exams, probably). In addition to being box office manager, Charles Siebert appeared in Moliere’s The Doctor in Spite of Himself as Pucinello, Moliere’s Sganarelle as Lelia, and Eugene O’Neill’s In the Zone as Ivan.
After a break of a day or so, apparently, the Players opened Kurt Weil’s Threepenny Opera in July, 1958. A full-page photo essay from the Milwaukee Journal is preserved in the archives (7/9/58, Betsey Koehler, pictures by Walter Sheffer; note, the library’s date for this article appears to be incorrect. 7/9/58 is what appears on the untrimmed copy.). A photo caption states: “Several of the performers have two roles. C. Alan Siebert, Kenosha, plays both Wally the Weeper, a member of MacHeath’s gang, and Smith, the jail warden. He is shown above as the warden.” The actor is made up quite colorfully, and with a peg-leg, yet. Mr. Siebert has stated that he liked doing make-ups and was good at it, and the only back-stage theater picture of the actor that I have found is in the Marquette archives, and shows him making up for The King and I.
Siebert was billed as C. Alan Siebert for the role of Wally, and as Charles Siebert for the warden. For more on Mr. Siebert’s billing choices, see below under Annie Get Your Gun.
In a trimmed article which is missing its attribution, but has a byline “Edward P. Halline” (who wrote for the Sentinel), the author notes about this production of Threepenny Opera that “The director, Fr. John J. Walsh, S.., discreetly excised some of the bawdier portions…” In a further comment on the differing sensibilities of the 1950s, a 7/28/58 Milwaukee Journal article preserved in the Marquette archives notes that one of the actors was suspended for “horseplay involving hypnotism” which evidently violated tenets of Catholicism at the time. And lest we forget that Marquette was and is a Catholic university, each program has “AMDG” (for the greater glory of God), the Jesuit motto, on the back.
There is quite a lot of material on file about the December, 1958 production of Annie Get Your Gun, including stacks of the programs, which were made up like old-time handbills with P.T. Barnum-style fonts and headings. Although in all of the larger productions students doubled up on roles, only Mr. Siebert chooses to use different versions of his name, assuming it was his own choice. One suspects there is a little joke involved that is now lost to time. In a billing unique to Mr. Siebert’s career, we read, “Theater management supervised by C. Alan Siebert who also appears as a Cossack dancer in the Pawnee Bill parade.” (Oh, for a time machine!) Meanwhile, “Mr. Charles Siebert” appears as Frankie Slade and Mr. Schuyler Adams. The first appearing actor in Annie is Cathy Kilzer as Millie Day. Miss Kilzer also played Mrs. Schuyler Adams, perhaps an audition for her later role as Mrs. Charles Siebert. (The future Mrs. Siebert also appeared as one of his wives in The King and I.)
Also produced in 1958, but with no dates of performance or cast details: Aria de Capo, Red Peppers, Everyman. Mr. Siebert informs us that “these were the second half of the above-referenced Drama Festival. We did 6 one-acts in 2 nights. In this second evening I played a minor role in Everyman and nothing in the other two.” Produced in 1959, no dates or cast list but a large number of photos with cast information (Mr. Siebert not appearing in any of the photos): My Heart’s in the Highlands. Mr. Siebert states that he actually had the starring role, and this illustrates the need for more complete information in the archives.
Mr. Siebert is often credited in the archival materials as theater manager, public relations, box office manager, and similar roles for most of the productions. Only once did I find him listed as working in set construction, though I imagine the records are incomplete in this respect, or perhaps he wasn’t very handy with a hammer. As a former journalism major, he may or may not have had a hand in the Players’ press releases, but what remains in the archives shows a very professional effort at publicizing the company.
Charles Siebert’s IMDB listing mentions, under ‘Trivia’, that actor/director Peter Bonerz was best man at Mr. Siebert’s wedding. Bonerz, whose career arc has been somewhat similar to Mr. Siebert’s, played Charlie Davenport in Annie and there’s a great Sheffer picture of him as Matthew the Mooch in Threepenny Opera. He’d also play Kralahome to Siebert’s King in The King and I.
It’s not clear from the record, but Mr. Siebert clarifies for us that The King and Iran for six months in 1959 (August through December is what is shown in the archives), plus a ‘revival’ in 1961. Charles Siebert received as much glory for his performance as the King as any young actor could wish, and there is a lot of material and many photos in the archives to demonstrate this. In the 1959 production, Siebert was house manager, Bonerz properties manager, and Catherine Kilzer costume coordinator and designer, as well as performing as a royal dancer and as one of the king’s wives. Mr. Siebert tells us that he also choreographed the “Small House of Uncle Thomas” scene, though he admits he leaned heavily on Jerome Robbins’ original.
In a review headed “Two Shine as Leads in ‘King and I’”, Edward P. Halline of the Milwaukee Sentinel (8/8/59) states that the actress playing Anna Leonowens, Josephine Busalacchi (a trained singer who later helped develop the Milwaukee Opera Company) and “Charles Siebert’s imperious and inquisitive Siamese despot were the shining lights of the Marquette Players’ performance…” though he refers to it as a ‘small scale production’ of the original. “Siebert likewise was completely convincing as the absolute monarch of this fable. He couldn’t sing particularly, but neither could Yul Brynner, the original King, and Siebert also had a fine head of hair. If he looked as if he came right off the campus instead of from the royal palace at Bangkok, he made it apparent, quite effectively, he was top dog.” If Charles Siebert felt at all intimidated by performing with a more experienced and professionally trained singer (who, based on her having children old enough to appear in the show, must have been quite a bit older, as well), he didn’t show it.
The archives contain a clipping from an undated and unidentified glossy periodical containing a column called “The Critick’s Choice” with no byline. “The leads…Josephine Busalacchi…and Charles Siebert as the King, were both ideal choices for their roles…Seibert didn’t emulate Yul Brynner in shaving his head, but he was excellent in the strutting, the tantrums, and the ‘puzzlement’ of the worried monarch.”
On 10/24/59, the Milwaukee Journal ran an article headed “MU Play is Canceled: ‘King’ is in Hospital”. “The king in ‘The King and I’ has a tonsil infection, forcing cancellation…” of an entire weekend (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) of performances. “The ill actor, who is also business manager, is Charles Siebert…Siebert is at St. Michael Hospital.” As he apparently resumed performances the following Friday, either his tonsils had given out earlier in the week, or he made a remarkably quick recovery from a tonsillectomy. At any rate, I feel certain this is the only time Mr. Siebert was referred to as an “ill actor”.
All of the photos from The King and I in the archives are dated as the 1961 production. I believe that some of them are actually from the earlier production, based on the differences in the costumes, length of Mr. Siebert’s hair, etc. However, I have to go with the information on the photos themselves. (Mr. Siebert’s opinion is most of the photos are from the 1959 production, and that any of them with Josephine Busalacchi must be, as she didn’t perform in the reprise.)
The archives are spotty for 1960, and the best information comes from the boxes of Sheffer photos. Among the productions: Christ in Concrete (prepared but not performed, according to Mr. Siebert, and after skimming through the script at Marquette, that was probably a good thing), Peter Pan, The Bald Soprano. Siebert shows up, credited, in a particularly attractive Sheffer photo from the dream sequence of Peter Pan in which Peter is played by John Neumeier, currently the director of the Hamburg Ballet. In an artistic shot of the cast of The Bald Soprano, which was printed with a very high contrast for effect, so that the faces of the performers are blanked out, Mr. Siebert is still easily recognizable at the center of the shot, though none of the actors are credited and no cast list exists. We only know that the challenging 1954 theological play Sign of Jonah was performed in 1961 by Sheffer’s photos of the production, one of which has a penciled notation on the back, “Chuck Siebert as Jonah”. Siebert may have been on his Army Reserve active duty service at some point during this year as we see little evidence of him, or the evidence may simply no longer exist. There is a large central Sheffer photo, obviously of a production of George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan, on display outside the third floor reading room at the Raynor library. The copy in the archive only gives the year (1961) and name of the production. The actor to the right is Charles Siebert. Another photo lists no date or production but says it’s Charles Siebert. (Mr. Siebert again corrects the record: he appeared in three roles in Saint Joan, as Dunois, de Beaudricort, and the Saint from Hell, which is the picture I had difficulty identifying, and for which Walter Sheffer won an award.)
1960 was the year of the eventful production of the medieval mystery play cycle, Ludus Coventriae – eventful because it garnered enough attention to be produced on national television (CBS, Look Up and Live Sunday inspirational show) in 1961. Running from 11/11/60 to 12/17/60, the play was performed with some historical accuracy as a pantomime with narration. The television version exists at the University Library in the film and video collection in reel-to-reel film format, which I unfortunately did not have time to make arrangements to view. For the stage production, “Chuck” Siebert worked set construction while “Charles A.” Siebert handled publicity. In his spare time, Siebert also appeared as Lucifer, Cain, and Herod. Mr. Siebert adds that he also portrayed Judas, though this is not preserved in the print records; the actor supplied the photo at left. Catherine Kilzer portrayed Eve, Womankind, and Mary. If you have any knowledge of medieval mystery plays, or just a normal grasp of metaphor, you have a good idea of how this went.
March, 2013: Charles Siebert has posted an excerpt from The Catholic Hour on YouTube. The portion of Ludus Coventriae shows a production that, though of its time, is nothing to be ashamed of. Mr. Siebert’s movements are graceful and expressive, and one can imagine his performance in his 1966 New York debut as Richmond in Richard III, which was described as ‘balletic’. Presumably Mr. Siebert had no qualms dancing with others who were dance students, including John Neumaier. The video (which is available in the Marquette archives) includes segments of other Marquette productions as well.
In my biographical section about the actor, I mentioned the special qualities one would expect in an actress selected to portray the Blessed Mother at a Catholic school. Mr. Siebert evidently has one of the Sheffer portraits, that of Miss Kilzer as Mary, which is not in the archives, and is lovely, indeed. In other archival material, I note that Miss Kilzer portrayed the Little Prince in the play of the same name, from the Saint-Exupéry fable, and also the child role in a ballet based on Francis Thompson’s poem ‘The Hound of Heaven’, about which the Milwaukee Journal wrote that she “look[ed] like the age of innocence…”
Such a strange world we live in, at times, in which there seems to be no coincidence. Mr. Siebert states that he went to Marquette University because a friend had gone there before him; he intended to study journalism, but found acting; he fled a youthful heartbreak, but found the woman who would be the foundation of his family.
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come!’