Notes from 1958: Mary Herndon Bell
To celebrate the rich history of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, we’re sharing stories from actors, directors and crew involved in the very first festival in 1958. This story comes from Mary Herndon Bell (pictured on the far right), a retired art and theatre teacher and a globetrotting volunteer.
I’m from Midland, Texas. I had a friend who was going to CU and I said, “Why not?” I had no desire to stay in Texas.
I was an art student at CU, and I had never done theatre work before. I started out building scenery for the student productions. During one show, the costumer came down with pneumonia, and since I could sew, I was asked to take over. That was a trial by fire. I found I enjoyed it.
I was pregnant with my daughter during the first festival, but I was still designing costumes and performing on stage. My daughter had her in utero stage premiere as the front end of a horse in “The Taming of the Shrew.”
I was only about 20 then, and I was a very shy young woman. Acting was new to me, and I was terrified of [Executive Director] Jack Crouch at first. The first time you’re on stage, you feel like you might die. But performing is fun once you get over the initial fright. It brings you out of yourself and into another character.
I was busy in the costume shop all day long. We’d start in the early morning and we’d be there until after rehearsals were over at night. Those were long days cooped up with a bunch of other 20- and 21-year-olds. You can imagine the silliness we got up to.
In the second season, we had a British man named Ralph Symonds directing “Richard II.” He was about 5 feet tall, and he was a little tyrant. He would get terribly upset when all the actors pronounced words with American accents. He needed a herald to come in and announce something in one scene, so he asked me to do it and to wear a moustache. Of course, all I looked like was a girl with a moustache…so we talked him out of it.
Everything was much more purist back then. The costume designs were all traditional Elizabethan, although they were very simplified because of the time and money restraints we had; we didn’t have all the braiding and the beads that you see on real Elizabethan clothes. I don’t mind that [the festival] is changing dress or using different settings now. I don’t believe everything has to stay so pure. If it’s a well done production, the acting is good, I can understand what’s going on and I don’t get rained on, I’m happy.