The Rehearsal Club Celebrates 110 Years
Updated: Oct 19
In preparation for the historic “Rehearsal Club’s” gala, The Academy Pages spoke with Margaret Strom (‘67), current vice president and past club resident. The gala will take place this Friday and honors an extraordinary 110th anniversary.
The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Your name came across our desk because of some exciting news you shared with us about The Rehearsal Club. Please give us a rundown on this.
Sure. The Rehearsal Club was established in 1913, and it was first opened as a haven for young women looking to start their careers in New York. It was a place where they could feel safe and was still affordable. It became something far more than just a boarding house because it became a place where women got to know each other…it was almost like a sorority; there were certain rules and regulations. It was particularly wonderful for me because, at the time, The Academy had no housing. Many young women were referred to live at The Rehearsal Club…and that was even a stipulation of living there–you had to be studying theatre or actively engaged in it, or looking for work. It was strictly for women who were moving into the realm of theatre. A host of women lived there: Lillian Russell, Audrey and Janes Meadows, Carol Burnett, Sandy Duncan, Diane Keaton, and Kim Cattrall. The club closed in 1979 due to the downturn in the economy in New York City and went dormant until it was revived in the early 2000s. This is our 110th birthday, and we have an upcoming gala on the 20th of October.
I want to get more to the gala later. What was the energy like at this place? It must have been a sight to behold.
I remember the great blackout in November of ‘65. I was walking home from class at The Academy. I was walking up to 53rd Street on Fifth Avenue when the lights went out. When everybody came pouring out of the buildings, I was afraid I would get pushed inside a building because of the crashing people. There was no light anywhere. When I saw candles lit in the windows, I knew it was the Rehearsal Club. I knew I was home. Another resident in rehearsal at The Academy blamed the stage manager because they thought they’d hit a wrong cue or switch. [Laughs.] They were glad to find out it wasn’t their fault.
What a remarkable story. Since you’ve mentioned that it’s been reopened, in what ways is it similar, and in what ways is it different?
We’re not in our own building…we’re still waiting for another Rockefeller to come and give us a building. Someone who wants a great tax write-off to rent it to us for 100 years for a dollar! [Laughs.] We do have rooms we sponsor now at Found Study. We even have been fortunate enough to have a “house mother” who lives there. Early on, it was clear that mentorship would be an essential part of this revived residency. There are workshops and auditions for women on our very long waiting list to get in. Last February, we sponsored an evening revue, the new residents performed, and we brought agents and casting directors in.
There aren’t quite the same rules and regulations we had, like no men allowed above the parlor floor! It also isn’t mandatory to dress for dinner on Sunday evenings. There’s so much done on social media that used to be done in person…we had one telephone and a bulletin board; whoever got to the phone first would answer and then yell up the stairs for whoever they were calling and post messages on the bulletin board. Nowadays, so much of this is done on social media.
A twofold question: what does the club mean to you, and what do you imagine is the club’s future?
Reconnecting with these women means so much to me. Reconnecting with them and finding out what they’ve done since and what they remember of the club. Today, looking out for these young women that are coming, it’s a mission. There’s such a need for a place like this. Today, it’s not just for women on stage or screen, but if you’re interested in what happens behind the scenes or backstage, you can apply too. I think that my connection in that way, in imagining the club’s future, is in knowing there will always be a place for the young woman who wants to come to New York. I can’t imagine a time when New York isn’t where you go to start, where there’s that spark. To have a place that’s safe and affordable is a necessity.
And that’s The Rehearsal Club, the future of it, it’s purpose. The last thing I wanted to ask about was this upcoming gala. Is there anything you’d want to say about it?
The general public is more than warmly invited, and tickets are still available. It is a once-in-a-lifetime event–how often does 110 come around? We’ll have a silent auction during the cocktail party and a full revue of dance, music, and videos of our history. During the party, there will be one of Carol Burnett’s dresses that she wore on her TV show, a dress designed by Bob Mackie, which will be featured in the silent auction. Blythe Danner, also an alum of the Rehearsal Club, is our Mistress of Ceremonies. We’ll also have a surprise guest–but I can’t discuss that. It will be a fabulous evening.
The next day, Saturday, October 21st, is the wardrobe sale. It originated as an event for young women living at the club who needed something for an audition or something special for an industry event, and it relied on donations. We’ve revived this old tradition for the first time in 44 years. From various stages, all of us have contributed things, and according to our mission, our way of helping these young women in the theatre means so much.
Tickets and more information can be found at https://rehearsalclubnyc.com/.