During the summer of 1993, an imaginative group of theater folks at Baker University hatched a mischievous plot that has finally come to fruition 24 years later.
Twenty-four years ago, the original Rice Auditorium stage was rounded and had a fabric apron from the lip of the stage to the floor. The nearly 40-year-old stage design affected the acoustics of the auditorium, keeping actors from easily projecting their voices. So, shortly after Broadway at Baker ended that summer, Mark Kirk, former professor of communications and theatre, oversaw work to update the stage.
During that process, Kirk and several workstudy students marveled at the random and weird things they found under the stage. This sparked the idea of leaving something behind themselves. The idea quickly snowballed, and the creative group got to work.
A few days after the final Broadway at Baker production of the summer of 2017, construction began on new Rice Auditorium renovations. This phase of the renovation includes new seating, new equipment, roof repair, new storage and lighting areas, and, of course, a new stage.
On August 2, the third day of renovations, a time capsule from 1993 was unearthed from the oldest portion of the stage. Contractors and Associate Professor of Theatre Tom Heiman were baffled and amazed at the discovery: a strange prop hand, an envelope, and a letter.
The hand was a prop from a long-forgotten theatre production. It looks like a burned hand, severed at the wrist, complete with a manicure and jewelry.
This hand was found next to an official Baker University envelope with a typed note on the front. The message reads, “Greetings from 1993” and describes how a student named Doug Taip had an accident on the table saw and lost his hand, where it was forgotten under the stage forever. The message signed off, “From the continuing legend of Doug Taip.”
Inside, the letter contained short messages and signatures from the conspirators.
Kirk wrote, “Hi! Hope you are doing something good with our stage.”
Joanna Daffron, ’96, wrote, “If you do not perform Dracula as soon as you find this, I will come back and haunt you…terrorizing and torturing you and your family until the end of time.”
Ray Robins, ’95, wrote, “Who are you and why are you here!?”
Doug Taip left a message as well: “We opened the stage apron for the first time since the building opened in the 1950’s. We are assuming no one will find this for another 30+ years. QUESTION: Do you guys still use Duck Tape (Duct Tape)?”
Creating the Capsule
Most of the students involved don’t remember the creation of the capsule, but a few of them surmised that this was something they would have done back then.
“We weren’t really crazy in the traditional ‘college kid, party hearty’ way, more of a ‘literarily immersed, theatre geek with a weird sense of humor’ way. What we’re experiencing right now was pretty much what we probably envisioned, without knowing how easy it might be using social media. We all pretty much lived together in Rice, and weird thought process was both encouraged and instigated by both Mark Kirk and Bruce Woodruff [former Theatre Department chair],” said Robins.
Remembering the hijinks he would encourage, Kirk said, “Students would sometimes do silly things such as glue coins to the floor of the auditorium for Bruce [Woodruff] to discover when he’d walk through the seating after performances.”
Woodruff said that Kirk did not always loop him in on his shenanigans, but he wouldn’t be surprised if Kirk was behind the creation of the time capsule.
Then, Woodruff won’t be surprised to hear that Kirk was indeed the ringleader of the time capsule and the creator of the legend of Doug Taip.
“Before we closed up the stage,” Kirk said. “For what I assumed would be a decade or two, given the infrequency of repairs, I decided to throw in the hand along with a quick note.”
The Legend of Doug Taip
Kirk says that the name “Doug Taip” is a spinoff of the classic theater “George Spelvin” pseudonym that is typically used when someone removes his or her name from a program either because of a contract dispute or the name appears too often. For Kirk, it was the latter.
Kirk said, “Since I did some directing and most of the design work, except when I might have a student to supervise in a project, my name would appear in the program too many times for my comfort, so I’d use Doug Taip, which was a pun on duct tape.”
Over time, Doug Taip was credited everywhere within the production programs, often more so than his fellow students.
Before the letter’s discovery, the legend of Doug Taip had been forgotten and the only reminder of his existence was a plaque bearing his name in the men’s dressing room, which states “Doug Taip Memorial Bathroom: ‘Stick together folks!’”
It appears the legend of Doug Taip might get a call back after 24 years of waiting.