100 years of student theater with E-52Dec 01, 2023 11:37AM ● By Tricia Hoadley
The rich history of E-52 covers the alphabet, with hundreds of shows going from “Absurd Person Singular” to “The Zoo Story,” plus five versions of “Much Ado About Nothing” as well. That history of the University of Delaware student theater group also covers many friendships and relationships.
“My strongest friendships and skills came from E-52,” said Jenna Cole, a 1996 UD alumna. “It was such a crucial part of my life. I still think of it fondly because it was so much fun.”
“For me E-52 was when I really found my place at UD,” said Courtney Lynahan, who earned her bachelor’s degree in 2005 and graduate degree in 2010. “I joined sophomore year after spending my freshman year kind of nonsocial and feeling slightly adrift. Suddenly I found myself part of a group of people who I might otherwise have never crossed paths, getting to do theater again. I still speak to a lot of them two decades later, and almost all of my closest friends from college are E52 alumni.”
E52’s first alumni newsletter, in 1990, noted at least 16 couples who met via E-52.
Anne (Harman) Chappelle, a resident of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, who often worked publicity for E-52, shared a Christiana Towers quad her senior year with three friends from E-52. She married an E-52 alum (Todd Chappelle) and passed along their love of theatre for both of their children, Jack and Echo. “Todd’s first show was in a night of one-acts in early 1989, and I remember one of his lines fondly: ‘Knife, knife.’ (Which is how we now pass the silverware around the table).”
“What I enjoyed most about my time with E-52 was the energy and creativity around the productions,” said Scott F. Mason, a former president. “It was a time of change when the group grew from being a small club within the then theater department to a bigger Registered Student Organization in the Student Life, which enabled it to have a budget, an office space, a dedicated advisor and the ability to perform in Wolf Hall and Bacchus. The group and its reputation increased campus-wide and it was a thrill to be a part of those changes that has kept it thriving til this day!”
“It’s so much fun,” said Gianna Sacca, the group’s current president and a theatre participant since sixth grade. “Every meeting I thought that I was talking to old friends.”
From a class to a club
E-52 is one of the oldest student groups at UD, and it all began with drama classes called E-51 and E52 that were first taught in 1923. In 1930, the E-52 Players produced their first extracurricular show.
Since then, drama education at UD has changed classes, departments and majors, and E-52 has changed names, venues and offerings. But the group has not changed its welcoming outlook (except for a “war” in the late ’80s with another student theatre group).
E-52 today has about 50 members, Sacca said, with an ambitious production schedule of three shows each semester. “Everyone switches roles all the time, and E-52 takes pride in being a close-knit group to allow these transitions of roles to be comfortable,” the group says on www.e52theatre.com.
The fall season begins Oct. 13-14 with “SAST XX: Back to the SAST,” the 20th rendition of one-act plays, which the group calls Short Attention Span Theatre. It will be performed in Bacchus in the Perkins Student Center on Academy Street on the main campus in Newark.
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” a musical by Rachel Sheinken and William Finn, runs Oct. 19-21 at Bacchus.
“The One-Act Play That Goes Wrong,” an insider comedy that intentionally falls apart on every theatrical level, follows Nov. 9-11 at Pearson Hall on Academy Street.
Tickets are $5-$10, Sacca said, and details will be posted on www.e52theatre.com.
E-52 participants meet, audition, rehearse, store supplies (like costumes and props), create their sets and perform in both buildings, a relatively convenient quarter-mile apart. They have also performed outdoors on campus and online during the pandemic in productions that live on on Spotify (“Hamlet”) and YouTube (“Skywalker,” which retells the “Star Wars” prequel trilogy to the music of “Hamilton”).
Although there’s such a bonhomie, in the end, Sacca reminds participants that it’s a student theatre group. “Being a student comes first.”