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Dayton Civic Theatre Scrapbook (SC-380)

Identifier: SC-380

Content Description

The scrapbook consists primarily of original photographs, programs, and newspaper clippings from Dayton Civic Theatre productions during the time period 1938-1942. During this time, the productions were performed by the Phoenix Players (directed by Edmund Wilkes) at the Dayton Art Institute auditorium. The Players performed plays (both classics and more modern), sketches, and readings. Of particular interest may be the "Great Days in Dayton" radio broadcast, sponsored by Dayton Power and Light.

The majority of the items in the scrapbook are original, high quality black and white photographs of the productions. Many programs are also included, with information about the cast and crew, theatre board and supporters, and local advertisements. Newspaper clippings include promotions for upcoming shows, human interest pieces about the cast, and reviews (especially "Down the Aisle" by local theatre critic Chuck Gay). Several issues of "The Civic Theatre News" newsletter are also present. Occasionally, items such as prop lists and membership surveys are included.

Users should note that although the materials remain in the order in which they were received, many items were inserted loose into the scrapbook and so the current order might not be the original order. Furthermore, few of the photographs are labeled or identified in any way, so it may be difficult to determine which production they came from. However, it is usually possible to determine that a particular group of photographs go together (i.e. depict the same production).

The majority of the scrapbook focuses on the Dayton Civic Theatre from 1938-1942. However, a few programs come from the Phoenix Players' work in Port Washington, Wisconsin, presumably during the same time period. And a group of clippings at the end of the scrapbook consist of Edmund Wilkes' work as a music critic in Tokyo in the late 1970s. Wilkes sent the clippings to Eleanor McCann in 1978.


  • Creation: 1938 - 1942
  • Creation: 1978
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1938 - 1941


Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on accessing material in this collection.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright restrictions may apply. Unpublished manuscripts are protected by copyright. Permission to publish, quote, or reproduce must be secured from the repository and the copyright holder.

Biographical / Historical

The Dayton Civic Theatre was founded and directed by Edmund C. Wilkes (1907-1984). Wilkes had previously of the Springfield Civic Theatre and was later a music critic in Tokyo. The Dayton Civic Theatre was formed, according to 1938 campaign materials, "to supply an unusual need: entertainment, cultural stimulation, and an opportunity for broad general service in self-expression in the drama..." The Theatre offered a subscription or membership plan to help support its efforts: $2 for a membership bought 8 tickets to be used any time during the season; a patron membership level of $10 was also available. A professional theatre company, the Phoenix Players, performed both professional and amateur plays. The amateur plays provided an opportunity for local Dayton artists to audition to participate.

The Phoenix Players was a professional theatre company, whose work with the Dayton Civic Theatre was led by director Edmund C. Wilkes. The Players performed plays (both classics and modern, professional and amateur), sketches, and readings, as well as providing instruction and classwork in voice, dictation, and dramatic interpretation during their residency at the DAI. Of particular interest may be the "Great Days in Dayton" radio broadcast, sponsored by Dayton Power and Light. The group lived at the Canby House, a nearby mansion owned by DAI. In addition to at least four seasons with the Dayton Civic Theatre, the Phoenix Players also conducted a summer theatre at the Port Playhouse in Port Washington, Wisconsin, under direction of Morton DaCosta. (DaCosta was later a director on Broadway in the 1950s.)

In addition to Wilkes and DaCosta, others who performed at Dayton Civic Theatre as part of the Phoenix Players included: Homer K. Hull, Robert Merriman, Helen Foster, Dean Hanley, Elizabeth Johnston, Clara Thropp, Wendell Whitten, William Weatherbee and Mary Hearns (who married and left the group), Emily Partridge, Deborah Maxwell, Edward Brooks Jr. (who died in Dayton during this time), Tom Daly, Mary Agnes Wagner, Faye Clark, Imogen Johnson, James D. Johnston, Virginia Barnelle, Margaret Joyce, Adelaide Yount, and John Harris.

The scrapbook itself was assembled by Eleanor McCann (1907-2004), a lifelong music teacher and for many years Music Director at the Dayton Art Institute. McCann served in various offices of the Dayton Civic Theatre, including membership drive co-captain and recording secretary.

Most of the original photographs were created by Mary Lou Hanauer (1908-1989), a photographer and teacher at the Dayton Art Institute. These are stamped on the back with her name, and in some cases "MLH" appears on the page alongside the photos. A few of the very first photographs are marked on the page in a similar manner, but with "Axel B." or "A.B.," and these were taken by Axel Bahnsen (1907-1978), a photographer who lived in Yellow Springs but also had a Dayton studio at the time and was associated at one time with the Dayton Art Institute as well. (A program within the collection confirms that both Hanouer and Bahnsen photographed the productions.)


1 linear feet

Language of Materials



The Dayton Civic Theatre was founded and directed by Edmund C. Wilkes. Most productions were performed at the Dayton Art Institute Auditorium by the Phoenix Players professional theatre company. The scrapbook primarily contains original photographs, programs, and news clippings, as well as some other original documents.


The scrapbook is arranged in its original order, which is roughly chronological (though there are exceptions).

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Dayton Civic Theatre Scrapbook was donated to Wright State University Libraries' Special Collections and Archives by the Dayton Art Institute in March 2022.

Related Materials

Researchers may find these related materials useful:

  1. SC-379: Eleanor McCann Dayton Music Scrapbook
  2. MS-296: 1913 Flood Survivors Oral Histories (which includes an interview with McCann)
  3. MS-145: Axel Bahnsen Papers
  4. MS-036: Thresher-McCann Papers (at Dayton Metro Library)
  5. Morton DaCosta papers, Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library (

Processing Information

In its original form at time of donation, the scrapbook consisted a single oversize volume, with photos and other materials glued to the pages of what appeared to be a music dictionary, with very thin pages. The individual items (photos, clippings, programs, etc.) are in good condition; however, the volume's construction (thin pages, failing glue, etc.) was a danger to the materials' preservation. Therefore, the processor, in consultation with the preservation archivist, disassembled the original volume and transferred the contents to page-sleeves in an archival binder box. This will help to ensure the preservation of the individual items, as well as the original order and context of the scrapbook (which was in serious danger as many items were no longer attached to their original pages or were never attached at all). Newspaper clippings in this collection have been photocopied for preservation.

Guide to the Dayton Civic Theatre Scrapbook (SC-380)
Lisa Rickey
2022 April 18
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

Wright State University Libraries
Special Collections and Archives
3640 Colonel Glenn Hwy
Dayton OH 45435-0001 USA