From the archive

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Dating a theatrical performance of Michael Strogoff

Mr. Teunis Ruijs from Elburg, the Netherlands, member of the Dutch Jules Verne Society and avid collector of Michael Strogoff provided me with the following scan of an old theater ticket, requesting me to attempt to date it. Although we have as yet no definite answer to his question, I think it is of broader interest to see where we are, so that readers of this article may step in and provide a solution.

Illustration: Complimentary ticket for two persons

This obviously is a complimentary ticket for two persons, who were expected to pay only 30 cents each for attending the performance Michaël Strogoff de koerier van den Czaar. This small sum was meant to cover municipal taxes, copyrights and administrative fees. The performance took place in a theatre named “Concertgebouw De Vereeniging”. Although no town is mentioned on the ticket, there can be no doubt that it was in the Dutch city of Nijmegen, where a theatre complex of this name exists until this day. Unfortunately, the name of the performing troupe is not mentioned. To make the puzzle complete, no year is mentioned after the date of Sunday May 21st.

Our research so far has not solved the puzzle, but some interesting data were obtained which are worth mentioning.

First of all, the internet revealed that a society called “Friends of the Concertgebouw De Vereeniging” has existed since 1984. On their website it is mentioned that a theatre of that name did not exist before 1915, when a ramshackle old theatre named “Sociëteit De Vereeniging” was demolished and replaced with a brand new complex created by architect Oscar Leeuw.

The specific mention of copyright confirms that the performance must have taken place after 1912, when the Dutch copyrights laws were passed. The combination day of the week and date can of course be easily checked with a perpetual calendar. Taking into account that the text in the ticket is in the old Dutch spelling, which was abolished in 1934 (but used until World War II), the following five possible dates emerge:

Sundays May 21st: 1916, 1922, 1933, 1939 and 1944.

The Friends of the Concertgebouw informed me that the theatre does not hold an archive and referred me to the Nijmegen municipal archive, which keeps archives of a number of former cultural societies. Here I was informed that the information I requested — if it is there at all — cannot easily be extracted from the archives as the name of the performing company is lacking. We would be most welcome to come over and examine the voluminous archives ourselves. I reported this back to Mr. Teunis Ruijs. He informed me that he is most definitely willing to do so. We shall keep readers informed of the outcome.

In his interesting article entitled “Jules Verne on stage” (contained in the book In de ban van Jules Verne, 2005), author and Jules Verne Society member Jan Ludeker mentions amongst other things that Michaël Strogoff was very popular as a play from 1877. For the period of direct relevance to our quest, Ludeker mentions a combines Belgian/Dutch performance in Circus Carré, Amsterdam, by Marius Spree and his troupe in 1914. In addition, there was a musical comedy perfomed by ‘Oefening zij ons doel’ (Exercise be our goal) in 1920, and a dilettante performance by ‘Het Masker’ (The Mask) in 1938. As Ludeker points out, his article does not intend to provide a complete overview of all theatrical performances of Jules Verne plays. Nevertheless, the three shows of 1914, 1920 and 1938 mentioned may, after opening performances in cities like Amsterdam and The Hague, have traveled the country and may have been shown in Nijmegen with a time lag of 1–2 years, in the years of our search 1916, 1922 and 1939.

Looking at the way the details on the show are provided in the ticket, I myself am under the impression that it must date from the period of popularity of the theatre, before the emergence of sound cinematography in 1930. I may be wrong. Welcome to those who can provide more information or add to the discussion.

Problem solved – July 30, 2007

My call for assistance in dating this performance of Michael Strogoff led to the discovery by Paul van den Boogaard of the digitized archives of the daily newspaper De Gelderlander, edition Nijmegen. Thans very much, Paul!

Following his suggestion, we found the following advertisement in newspapers dated May 17th and 19th 1933:

Illustration: Advertisement for the play

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