The History of Pipe Dreams Studio Theatre

            Pipe Dreams Studio Theatre’s history is one that has had a lack of an archive in the past. From what we current students know, it began a long time ago and it used to do close to thirty shows a semester. For many of us, that was the extent of our knowledge of the history of Pipe Dreams Studio Theatre. The people working at PDST became very interested in where we came from, what we used to be like, and what we’ve become. In order to do so, it took some digging from many staff members to unearth some of this information. Our first bit of information came from a PDST archival document. This document contains the shows PDST has done since the fall of 1984 where, according to this document, the first production in PDST was “Guernica” by Arrabel, directed by David Golden. The archival document takes us up to our most recent production of Reefer Madness. To fill in some of the gaps, PDST staff members sat down with Denise Myers, a performance faculty member at Millikin since ’91 and Millikin’s very own, Mary Spencer, Administrative Assistant of the Department of Theatre and Dance who has been here since 1989. Both have extensive knowledge of Millikin’s history.

                Denise’s knowledge of PDST begins with Dr. David Golden who was the chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance at the time, also the director of what we know to be as the first PDST show. He was also the creator of the Theatre and Dance department here at Millikin. When Denise first got to Millikin there were was she remembers to be close to seventy majors inin  in the theatre department, today there are hundreds of them that earn degrees from Millikin. Dr. Golden had set up a space called Pipe Dreams as a place for people to practice their craft. Most of the plays that went on in Pipe Dreams were Directing II students who were required by their Directing II class to direct a short, one-act play in Pipe Dreams.   Each one act had the time limit of twenty minutes. When Denise first arrived at Millikin, her task was to help these Directing II students get royalties for their shows and get scripts. Students would give Denise the information for their show and she would write to the company requesting rights. Each student had $50 with which to purchase their rights. Sometimes there were two directing classes a semester so lots of ofofplays would go up in the space each semester. All BFA students i  n the department were required to go and either went at 1 1am or 9:30pm that night on Tuesdays and Thursdays. That time slot lasted up until 2010 when Pipe Dreams Studio Theatre became a student run company and changed the times to weekend performances. So for at least twenty years PDST performances occurred at those times. In order to get credit for going students would sign the programs they received at the show then turn them into faculty as proof that they had seen the PD performances. Denise remembers a lot of interesting things being done in the space and things she quite enjoyed. With so many productions going up because of the requirement that Directing II had though, all the productions varied in quality. At this time as well, all freshman performance majors were required to audition for all the Pipe Dreams shows. So freshman at this time were auditioning for close to twenty different productions during a semester Denise recalls. Denise says, “That is what alumni repeatedly tell me was one of the most valuable things. Even though they hated it at the time, to have to go to that many auditions helped.” One thing both Denise and Mary commented on was the quality of the shows that were going up in the space. Though Pipe Dreams were producing close to thirty productions a semester, they were not all fantastic shows. “In retrospect, a lot of those plays were not very good because students didn’t care. It was like ‘Okay I have to do this for the class I don’t care about Directing or whatever I just need the credit,’ so not all of the productions were very good,” Denise remembers. Some of them though she also remembers as being excellent. She said a few students even went above and beyond the curriculum and received special permission to do full length plays. Those would become sort of side projects. This was the same time in Pipe Dreams career that Millikin had a Directing major so a lot of Directing majors used Pipe Dreams as a space to perform their projects.  PSDST saw its last Directing major put up his work in the fall of 2009 with the play Snuff that he also wrote, based off the book of the same title. TThat Denise remembers being a bit problematic about Pipe Dreams was it was also a classroom at the time in Mueller Hall, a building that no longer exists on the Millikin campus. It once stood where the Quad is today. Denise would have class at 12:30pm in Pipe Dreams so shows that went up at 11am had to perform and strike the space completely so the space could be used as a classroom in the next hour. One could imagine h how busy the space was. When Pipe Dreams was in Mueller all it was a space not quite as big as the dance studio that currently is in Millikin’s Old Gym on campus. The “old folk,” as Denise said got to sit on chairs and watch the performances but students typically sat on the floor. Staging could take place anywhere on the floor and people would just sit around it. The space was a black box but Denise remembers one day in particular where she came into class and the entire space had been painted white. The walls, the floor, everything. “The play was taking place in a grocery store and the white paint looked really cool in the space but I had class in there at 9am and no one knew they had planned to paint. The paint wasn’t dry when I came into class at 9am so I couldn’t really have class in here. We had a lot of shuffling that day. It looked way cool but again no one was following any sorts of procedures to share the space,” Denise says. From that day came rules about how to use the space, what you could and could not do, etc. It wasn’t long though until that space would no longer be available to theatre students for their projects on the Millikin campus.

                As mentioned, Pipe Dreams was in the building formally known as Muller Hall. “We were constantly applying band-aid to keep the space functionable,” Denise say. Part of the building was for the theatre department then the other half was for artists focusing on pottery and they had kilns and pottery sculptures and a welding station as well. Muller was pretty much all brick and just not built for that type of use it was getting.  Some of the trustees decided that that was just too dangerous and two days before classes were going to start Muller was shut down. “Any students that were around, the faculty, we were packing up boxes, and moving our things out of Muller…If you know where the current dressing rooms of Albert Taylor are that’s where our offices were moved,” Denise recalls. With the loss Muller Hall they lost the Pipe Dreams space. At this same point in time Albert Taylor, Millikin’s other theatre, was also closed because the ceiling was being worked on because of recent leaks. A few spaces around Millikin were converted to theatre classrooms si  nce the department no longer had many of their spaces with Muller Hall being closed as well as Albert Taylor. This is the time that the space known as Aston Dance became a space for the Theatre Department to use. Previously it was the lounge for the ladies who lived in Aston. “For about a week we were everywhere,” Denise says. Where Pipe Dreams is now was known as the Red Couch. Before that it was a restaurant called the Blue Mill. Blue Mill was a popular and well established restaurant in Decatur and when it was torn down for reasons we are not sure of, it was found that there was an Indian b urial ground beneath it. Regardless of the burial ground, a new building was built and where Pipe Dreams currently stands today. It was a coffee bar called the Red Couch. Th ere would be bands that would play and you could come get salad and a coffee and drinks at night. It was one of the few places in town you could go and get a latte in Decatur. The concept of the Red Couch just never took off so they went out of business and the space was left empty. So when the Theatre Department was kicked out of Muller Hall they had to find someplace to put up the season of plays they needed to do.  They rented that space for the purpose of putting up plays while Albert Taylor was undergoing work. “We had to move our first show of the semester back a week but all of our design team got together and converted that space into a theatrical space. They decided what curtains they would buy, where they were going to put the curtain rods, where they were going to build the booth. If you look at one of the walls in Pipe Dreams currently, you’ll see a wall of just sockets and that’s because that’s where the bar was in the Red Couch.”  The space was literally being converted as they were rehearsing for a show called And They Dance Real Slow In Jackson in the space and utilizing it for the department. We looked on the Millikin website to see when that show was produced and it was in 2004. From this information we can deduct that roughly, Pipe Dreams has been in its current space since 2004. Denise remembers doing Much Ado About Nothing that season in Pipe Dreams. It was supposed to go up in Albert Taylor but even today, she can’t imagine  it in any other space besides Pipe Dreams. It wasn’t till two or three years after they were in the space that dressing rooms were built for Pipe Dream’s use.  Soon enough, Pipe Dreams would become the company it is known as today.

In roughly 2008, Millikin stopped accepting Directing majors because they felt it was not an appropriate undergrad major. Directing II only came to be about once a year because there were fewer directing majors that were required to take it. Even though Directing II wasn’t offered as much and we no longer had incoming Directing majors, people still wanted to produce things in Pipe Dreams so Denise became the coordinator of Pipe Dreams, finding the times the shows submitted could be performed at. It. was at this time that there was a shift in Pipe Dreams where students began producing work in Pipe Dreams, not because it was a requirement, but because something in their education or life inspired them to put up a production and Pipe Dreams was the place to achieve that. Denise thinks the quality of work went up with this shift in Pipe Dreams no longer being something required, because now people weren’t just putting up things because they had to, but because they wanted to. Students would submit their work to Denise and she would assign schedules and organized everything about a Pipe Dreams show. Denise had a very organized system of how shows went up in Pipe Dreams by setting up check points, such as submitting program information, meeting with the TD for technical needs and safety clearance, etc, that students would have to complete in order to move on with producing their production. If these check points didn’t occur, that Pipe Dreams show would be shut down. Students began to feel like they didn’t have enough time or the rules were too strict and they became angry with the system of Pipe Dreams even though it was the students who didn’t abide by the rules they had agreed to. These issues came about in roughly 2008 or so, right before Pipe Dreams was handed over to the students. When it became a large issue with students not wanting to follow the rules Denise had laid out for Pipe Dreams, Laura Ledford, faculty at the time, decided to make it student-run, a vision many of the students fo und to be very appealing as a learning process as well. So in the spring of 2010, Pipe Dreams Studio Theatre had its first semester as a student run company. In that semester a new charter was created to lead the newly student run company to glory. A few students, Erika Davidson, Joel Kim Booster, Scott Dibbler, and others, all worked with several faculty members the summer before to imagine what this new company could become. In the fall of 2010 PDST established its Pipe Dreams series and its 21st Century Work Series. In the spring of 2011, PDST had its first fully produced work with the original work titled Affinity, written by Alex Scholinsky. In the fall of 2011, PDST has its first fully produced season which, co ntinued on in the spring of 2012 where we find ourselves today. Pipe Dreams Studio Theatre has had a long and interesting history. Even though there are still gaps to our story, we look forward to discovering more about our past and continuing to create a new history for Pipe Dreams Studio Theatre.



See you next semester for more blog posts! Until next time…

Jane Davis

Special thanks to Mary Spencer and Denise Myers for their information they gave us.