The St. Xavier's Stage - A Brief History
The stage has always been held in great
honour at St. Xavier's. For an educational
institution an auditorium is not just a venue
for school or college events, or merely a
meeting place, it is a space where a corporation
of students and scholars congregate - to
celebrate, to debate, to discuss, and sometimes
even to mourn collectively. As we stand at the
threshold of another century in the history of
St. Xavier's College, it is meet that we go down
memory lane and find out how students gathered
here when it all began 130 odd years ago, how
this place changed over the century, and how it
is now poised to provide a space for even
greater creative, cultural and social events,
something that St. Xavier's College has always
been noted for.
The college stage and auditorium that you see today, has come through a historic process of evolution and gradual transformation. The earliest roots of this stage goes back to the 'Sans Soucci Theatre', which was burned down by fire in 1843. But the spirit of Sans Soucci survived the holocaust, and in 1859, when the premises became the property of Belgain Jesuits, who called it St. Xavier's, theatre came to life again. The St. Xavier's stage found a place of pride in the cultural life of Calcutta.
The growth of the St. Xavier's Stage and auditorium took place separately in distinct and gradual phases, creating history of its own. The earliest history of the college hall goes back to 1885. The Old College Hall then served as a dormitory for the boarders as well as providing the most convenient place for dramatic performances. After 1885, great occasions, like the Prize Distribution Day, demanded more space than the hall could provide. For these functions a large shamiana was erected in the open.
From this fledgling beginning, the St. Xavier's stage took a giant leap into a major transformation in 1931. This change and wholesome transformation was solely due to the remarkable ability of Rev. Father Weaver, S. J. Still within the premises of the Old Hall, before the new building was erected, Father Weaver with his vision and creative ability rebuilt the old college stage. He had the old stage enlarged and renovated: new teakwood pillars and arches came into being; spotlights made the lighting scheme more effective and elaborate. There were set up complete sets of light in four colours, which by means of a very elaborate switch board could produce fairy which set off the stage magnificently. In the centre of this new stage shone the college crest in all its glory.
Four years later, in 1934, came the New Building, with the New Auditorium and with it, the new stage found a permanent place. This New Auditorium is the one which most of us have known, for it is where so many Xaverians, past and present, had always gathered. It was built with the same purpose in mind, as the present auditorium has been built today- to meet the needs of a growing community of students. In 1934 it brought St. Xavier's pre-eminence, as a stage where some of the best plays were enacted by some of the most renowned theatre people. The auditorium must have filled a crying need for a proper proscenium theatre, a fairly large seating capacity and despite the limited acoustics, the fairly large seating capacity and despite the limited acoustics, the opportunity for students to project their voices in more ways than one. It is no hyperbole to say that the voices emanating from that stage were heard not by their fellow collegians. Even the city of Calcutta took notice of its eloquence and repertory. That hall stood for so long that even a short notice of those who incubated and took flight within it s wings will read like a long list.
In the bright history of the college stage are recorded names that refuse to pass out of man's memory. With pride we may recall that St. Xavier's Hall housed a very fine theatre during the war, it was called 'The Garrison Theatre'. Professionals like Jack Hawkings, Noel Coward and other English and American actors performed here. In the late forties Shakespeare was brought alive performed here. In the late forties Shakespeare was brought alive on St. Xavier's stage by its talented student Utpal Dutt and his newly founded theatrical company. 'The Shakespeareana' of Geoffrey Kendal came to Calcutta and performed on the St. Xavier's stage on more than one occasion. Of the many others who started their histrionic careers here were Victor Banerjee, and N. Vishwanathan.
Finally, no history of St. Xavier's College stage can be complete without a reference to the late Rev. Father J. Johanns, S. J. the celebrated philosopher of this institution, who composed delicate, realistic and artistic religious plays which were all produced on this stage almost a hundred years ago.
But with the century drawing to a close, in the wake of communication and technological innovations all around, the Hall gradually became an anachronism. The old order had to yield to the new. The heralder of this dynamic change is none other than the present principal of St. Xavier's College Rev. Fr. P. C. Mathew, who saw the increasing demands for more space for the laboratories for physics and the need for shifting the computer centre to a more convenient location. Also the hall had to provide for greater curricular and extra curricular needs. The Hall that your are seated in today, thus hides from you two important academic developments in the college. The newly relocated physics laboratory right above the stage and the new computer centre right below, right where the green-room used to be. Yet, it does so in a manner, in a way that is best epitomized by the stunningly conceived cyclorama - just a sheet tightly strung across - which provides a sense of limitless space. This hall has not undergone merely cosmetic changes in the air-conditioning, the large engraved doors (with the emblem of the college ), the marble floor, the paneling, the large lobbies on both sides of the first floor, the paneling, the large lobbies on both sides of the first floor. There is something more - the new green-room and a staff library, on the first floor. With sidewalks, catwalks, world-class acoustics, state-of-the-art lighting - that would be the envy of an y other hall in the city, fifty one lights that would make Tapas Sen delight for the new millennium. It is a multi-use theatre that can be utilized for new generations of students to present no only such traditional arts as theatre, but may be the venue for an exciting multi-media mounting.
At St. Xavier's re-incarnates its hall, the spirit of the 'Sans Soucci' is once again active and alive. Nihil Ultra.