When the Bing Theatre was first built in 1976, thanks to a generous gift from USC Trustee Anna Bing Arnold, Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth was the very first production to grace its stage. The Bing was the first (and to date, the only) building on campus constructed exclusively for theatre, a 589-seat proscenium on the former Bovard Athletic Field. Drama department chair Alex Segal directed the premiere, with guest artist Dorothy McGuire starring as The Princess Kosmonopolis. Beloved faculty member Ritchie Spencer designed the costumes, and thirty years later, his final show would also be in the Bing: the April 2006 production of Company. Below is the program for that very first show in the Bing, with a letter from Arnold to the young performers who would set foot onstage for years to come.
Dear Young Performer—
If there were one wish to be bestowed, the best might be that you will always appreciate the privilege of being a player. Ruskin wrote “The greatest reward for toil is not what one is paid for it but what one becomes through it.” In the heartache, the labor and the magic of your work in the theatre, you enlarge both your own world and that of your audience. You receive and give facets of thought and feeling beyond your own, from the work of the playwright or the composer. And with these added insights, you redefine your values and you deepen your self-perception to become more fully and effectively your own unique being, in your art and in yourself.
Your listeners bring you their full attention and their open hearts, a rare though always wished for association! Performing is a relationship between you and your audience. It is a feeling as well as an intellectual communication. And in this heightened emotional exchange, the tensions of your listeners can be released and their vague dissatisfactions dissolved, permitting them again a “promise of happiness” which helps them to accept themselves as they are, to believe again in their own potential, to feel more whole and unified. Performing is a reciprocal, creative interaction which is life-giving.
Besides, it gives pleasure; and when we give pleasure, we know we are loved and can love others. Surely, that is the best gift with which to start a career. May the work of your art return to you a good measure of fulfillment!
Anna Bing Arnold
September 7, 1976
Share your memories with us!
To help celebrate our 75th anniversary, the School of Dramatic Arts is collecting memories from our community to share during our year-long celebration. Submit your stories from your time at SDA through words, images or videos. #SDA75