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SDSU theater history could be saved with donor help

Doner Auditorium makeup room
Nearly four decades worth of student inscriptions cover the Doner Auditorium backstage areas, like this makeup room.

There may be a second act in store for the SDSU theater history left behind in Doner Auditorium.

The auditorium’s green room and makeup rooms hold nearly four decades worth of inscriptions from theatre students who covered the walls, ceilings and other surfaces with their signatures, dates, season lineup schedules, quotes and favorite lines from plays.

Built in 1912 as part of Morrill Hall (formerly known as the Administration Building), Doner Auditorium was home for hundreds of State University Theatre and Prairie Repertory Theatre shows. With the new Performing Arts Center addition, Doner Auditorium is no longer used for university productions and will eventually be repurposed, taking with it this historical record of theater student perspectives that have accumulated since at least the early 1980s.

The SDSU Archives and Special Collections would like to document and digitize the content of the auditorium’s backstage areas. The department seeks donor assistance to fund the preservation of this unique institutional history.

Using high-quality photographs, printed theater materials and open-source software, the Archives proposes to create an interactive exhibit in the form of a virtual map of the backstage rooms. With this map, users could select individual inscriptions and see related information, like digitized programs and production images. The online exhibit will provide a literal behind-the-scenes view of the theater program that highlights the work of the students themselves, not just the characters they portrayed onstage.

This publicly accessible exhibit would be a new resource to anyone interested in theater in South Dakota, such as current and former theater participants and instructors; scholars of performing arts, history, or culture; prospective theater students; and theater fans. The project would also include opportunities for theater program alumni to share memories of the work involved in bringing a performance to life.

Donations of any amount will be accepted toward the preservation of this one-of-a-kind SDSU theater history. The total project cost is estimated at about $10,000. Online gifts can be made here; please type in "Doner Auditorium Green Room Preservation Fund 102116" in Step 3 of the form. For more information or to mail a donation, please contact Library Operations Manager Emmeline Weber by emailing emmeline.weber@sdstate.edu or calling (605) 688-5106.