In the early 1890’s, Baltimore had a group of young society men who decided that they had the necessary skills, talent and ability to form a club for the purpose of putting on a show for the benefit of charitable organizations. This would give the men the opportunity to utilize their own individual talents while, at the same time, helping a charity. The club formally came into being in 1893 and the first show was planned for the following year. Mr. Baldwin Sloan offered to write a comic opera for the club’s first production. With all original music, script, costumes, and scenery, Baltimore society was treated to two performances of this opera, “Mustapha”, at Ford’s Grand Opera House on February 5 and 6, 1894. The performances were enthusiastically received each night before the largest audiences ever to fill a theater in Baltimore for a production by an amateur or professional company. The phenomenal success of these two performances encouraged the Board of Governors to give an additional matinee and evening show. These shows raised a total of $5,800 for The Children’s Country Home. In today’s dollars, this would come to over $100,000.
The success in Baltimore gave the club confidence to take the show to other cities where they did not have the support of their friends which amateur theatrical groups rely on. Performances were given in Washington D.C. and in Richmond, Virginia, with gratifying results. Other shows were taken to Harrisburg, PA and to Philadelphia. One of the early benefactors of the shows was The Women’s Industrial Exchange, which is still in existence. Other early shows included the opera “Joan of Arc” and a show called “The Paint and Powder Vaudevilles”. Early productions were seen on the stages of the Lyceum, Albaugh’s Ford’s Auditorium, Maryland Theater, Lehman’s and the Lyric. Out of these, only the Lyric survives.
Since it was a men’s club, the female roles in the productions were filled by men dressed as women. This continued up into the 1930’s when women were actually allowed to take part in the shows! Today, as a tribute to these early days, most of the shows include a comic “drag” number with men acting as ballerinas or exotic dancers.
Finally in 1994, after 100 years as a men’s club, the organization bowed to the winds of change and decided to admit women as members. The change has marked a big step forward for the club as the women members are making many positive contributions.
Paint & Powder remains the oldest club of its kind in America. Similar but younger clubs exist in Boston and Philadelphia and other cities. Some of the early members of the club bore names, which were well known in the city, names such as Cassard, Randall, Stieff, Ridgely, Bryan, Jackson and Maslin. Others went on to national fame. Baldwin Sloan was the author of Broadway hits, Harry Lehr appeared on Broadway and Gary Moore went on to radio and TV fame.
The production of a show offers many opportunities for the utilization of artistic or creative talent. There are of course the singers and dancers in the show, but also a “Men’s Singing Chorus”, a “Women’s Singing Chorus” the “Counterpoints” made up of male and female singers, “The Keystone Kops”, and a music group called the “Uptown Society Band”. In addition there is much to be done in costumes, make-up, set construction, lighting and sound, programs, advertising sales and other back-stage activities. The goal of the club is to give all the members the pleasure of using their talents while enjoying the camaraderie of the club and also serving the community.
In 1994, women were allowed to become members, four years later in 1998 the club elected its first female president and she was the first president elected to serve three consecutive years. The club is a Baltimore tradition, but is keeping up with modern times. We are hoping to offer “Performing Arts Scholarships” in the future. Our theme song is “Have Another” referring to shows. We plan on having many “Have Another’s” in the new century.
Those who are interested in learning more about the club or who feel they might like to participate in some way are encouraged to contact us at 410 823-7355.