Collection spotlight: Mabel Clare Allen Papers
Every few weeks, the University Archives will dive into one of its collections and bring you new, updated, or even rediscovered history of Illinois State University. This week we’ll take a look at the recently processed collection of former theatre director and namesake to the Allen Theatre, Mabel Clare Allen.
Allen was born in Dunlap, Illinois, in 1905 to a very large family. She was the seventh of eight children born to Walter and Elma Allen. Interested in teaching from an early age, Allen earned her bachelor’s degree from Bradley University and graduated with her master’s degree from the School of Speech (now the School of Communication) at Northwestern University. She briefly taught high school students in Dunlap before taking a faculty position at Illinois State Normal University in the Department of Speech and Dramatics in 1929. In that same year, Allen also became the director of dramatics, a position she held for the majority of her career.
Locally, Allen was known for her many contributions to the university and theatre communities. Allen co-wrote and directed the play commemorating the 75th anniversary of the university, The Lighter of Flames. She also both wrote and directed the 100th university anniversary play With Faith in the Future. Outside of the university, Allen was well known in the community for her acting courses. To give children the opportunity to participate in theatrical productions, Allen co-founded the Children’s Theatre of Normal. This is where several local celebrities got their start in the theatre world including McLean Stevenson and Karl Eigsti.
Allen began to cut back on her theatre duties in 1960 when she stepped down as the director of dramatics at ISNU. The following year, Allen left the Children’s Theatre of Normal. She continued teaching theatre and speech courses until her full retirement in 1967. To honor her work and commitment to the local theatre community, ISU named the black box Studio Theatre, located in Centennial East to the Allen Theatre in 1968. The space is home to acting and dance rehearsals, classroom activities, and a variety of performances. Mabel Clare Allen died in September 1982 in Missouri and is buried in Peoria, Illinois.
We have recently processed Allen’s papers as part of our work with the American Theatre Archive Project. Allen’s papers include her many production books that hold her director’s notes, technical and performance notes, cast lists, and other information about a show’s production. Many performance files include photographs, ephemera such as ticket stubs and marketing materials, and signed programs by the cast and crew. Allen’s papers also include her professional files that hold her classroom lectures and notes on the courses she developed and taught at ISNU.