MSU's Faculty Forum to Explore Army's Performing Arts Programs

MSU's Faculty Forum to Explore Army's Performing Arts Programs

A little-known fact about the U.S Army - it has been producing theater and other live performance events for nearly a century. Dr. Karen M. Dabney, Assistant Professor of Theater, will speak about the history of the U.S. Army Music and Theater Program and Army Entertainment's national and international theatrical tours at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 13, in Clark Student Center Wichita I and II. She also will cover the issues that have impeded archiving the history of these endeavors.


In 1962, Margaret "Skippy" Lynn, one of the original civilian actress technicians, convinced the Army to provide performing arts opportunities on Army bases around the world and to establish a music and theater program for soldiers. This program was a resource for thousands of drafted "artistic-type" soldiers who would never have enlisted on their own volition. The arts provided an outlet for soldiers (and to a lesser extent their families); Army Entertainment discovered an untapped resource for recreation and diversion for its draftees. At its peak, the Music and Theater Program had approximately 400 operational entertainment programs in U.S. Army bases around the world. In 1976, The Washington Post called it "the largest producing organization of music and theater in the world," having staged more than 25,000 performances annually for more than 2.5 million people worldwide. Lynn had succeeded in bringing the arts to soldiers, enriching the quality of life available to those on base.


In addition to individual installations' theater programs, Army Entertainment has produced a variety of national and international theatrical tours. The most widely attended and financially supported theatrical endeavor is the U.S. Army Soldier Show, which started in 1983, reaching approximately 140,000 people worldwide annually. Modeled after the success of Irving Berlin's musical revues during World War I and II, using popular musical theater numbers, choreography, and short scenes, active duty soldiers produce, perform, direct, and operate the performances for their fellow troops, as well as family members and Department of Defense civilian employees as a means to boost morale, maintain resiliency, and avoid boredom.


Dabney says that the public's knowledge of this expanse of theater programming is limited, in part, due to an incomplete archive. The New York Public Library's Performing Arts Collection contains an Army Entertainment archive covering the period 1945-1975. However, since the decline of the Music and Theater Program, the Army has not been able to keep a thorough and accessible archive of its entertainment endeavors.


Dabney will address the important contribution of soldier-actors in theater history and what role their presence, or absence, in the archive does to contribute to the understanding of the role of performing arts in the Army community through the aid of personal interviews, archived performances, articles, and on-site observations.


The Faculty Forum is an interdisciplinary lecture series presented by MSU to provide faculty the opportunity to have their scholarship recognized in the community and to promote the exchange of ideas among colleagues.



Admission is free and open to all. Contact Dr. Jon Price at or 940-397-4288 for more information.