Arts

Hasty Pudding Theatricals casts first female performers

Mila Kunis (center) was presented with her award during the Hasty Pudding 68th Woman of the Year celebration in January. The troupe has cast women for the first time.
Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/File
Mila Kunis (center) was presented with her award during the Hasty Pudding 68th Woman of the Year celebration in January. The troupe has cast women for the first time.

At close to midnight on Sunday, Harvard’s legendary acting troupe, the Hasty Pudding Theatricals, released its cast list and made history. For the first time in its 174 years of productions, the performers included six women.

Hasty Pudding, known for its ribald and satirical productions, counts both US President John Adams and actor Jack Lemmon as alumni, and had until now used only male students to act on stage.

The inclusion of women in the cast, first reported by the student newspaper The Crimson, marks a major departure for the theatrical group. It also reflects a changing social scene on the Ivy League college’s campus, where traditionally all-male and all-female social groups are losing their clout.

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Harvard announced this month that 15 former all-male final clubs, all-female final clubs, fraternities, and sororities were poised to become gender-neutral, pushed by Harvard’s punishing new rules and their own desire to change. While it’s unclear how the cultures of these groups will alter, the decision to scrap single-gender memberships does signal a shift in tradition at Harvard and comes after years of controversy.

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Under the policy, which Harvard adopted in May 2016, students who join single-gender clubs, fraternities, and sororities are barred from leading campus organizations and sports teams and from receiving recommendations from the dean for prestigious Rhodes and Marshall scholarships.

Harvard adopted the policy in an attempt to address issues raised by elite, all-male final clubs, which administrators have blamed for rowdy parties that have led to underage drinking and sexual assault, and for fostering a divisive culture.

The number of social groups that decided to drop their single-gender memberships has come as a surprise, said Alex Miller, Harvard’s associate dean of student engagement.

“To have 15 is amazing,” Miller said. “We hope all students are able to access a multitude of social organizations.”

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Harvard students have, in the past, belonged to about two dozen single-gender organizations.

The sanctions likely played a significant role in many of these organizations reassessing their missions and policies, but it was ultimately their choice, Miller said.

Most of the sororities and female-only final clubs have agreed to pursue gender-neutral policies. Members said organizations designed to empower women didn’t want to force women to give up leadership opportunities or fellowships because of their single-gender policies.

One sorority, the Harvard chapter of Delta Gamma, relinquished its charter and dissolved. The sorority’s national president blamed Harvard’s sanctions, saying that the organization couldn’t thrive under the university’s policy.

But a handful of all-male final clubs and fraternities have refused to change their policies in order to be recognized by Harvard, arguing that the university is overstepping its role and limiting free expression on its campus.

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“We’ll defend our autonomy as an independent organization,” said Rick Porteus, the graduate president of the Fly Club, an all-male final club. “The Fly will not seek recognition at any time for any reason.”

The Fly and other all-male final clubs have powerful alumni support and own property around Cambridge, potentially providing them a cushion if membership falls and dues decline because of the sanctions.

The Fly and other all-male final clubs are also lobbying Congress to block Harvard’s sanctions, Porteus said.

The Hasty Pudding Club has allowed women as members for decades, but their participation in the productions was limited to behind-the-scenes work. Women have participated in the band, as technical staff, and in writing and producing the plays.

That changed on Sunday night when Celia K. Kenney, Elle L. Shaheen, Annabel O’Hagan, Laura Sky H. Herman, Shirley L. Chen, and Ashley M. LaLonde made the cast.

The Crimson reported that Pudding President Grace C. Ramsey confirmed the news in an e-mailed statement early Monday morning.

“We as an organization continue to be in awe of the level of talent of the students on Harvard’s campus, and we are so excited that for the first time in 175 productions, Harvard students of all genders will have the opportunity to showcase that talent on the Hasty Pudding stage,” she wrote.

Hasty Pudding Theatricals had announced in January that it would open its cast to women during the troupe’s celebration of actress Mila Kunis as its Woman of the Year.

Since the Hasty Pudding Theatricals performed its first musical back in December 1844, only male performers have graced its stage, with those in female roles dressing in drag. According to the Hasty Pudding website, many notable figures have appeared in drag on its stage, including William Randolph Hearst, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Lemmon, before he became famous for dressing as woman in the movie “Some Like it Hot.”

Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe. Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.