Taken from A Proposal for Consideration by the Department of Theatre and Dance Faculty, April 2007.
by Bradley W. Sabelli
A brief history of the department from the early 70’s to the present, including the following:
- Faculty (adjuncts, loss of the GTA’s, fulltime faculty future needs responsibilities, teaching loads, creative research activity)
- Support staff
- Department budget (academic)
- Department production budget (main stage season)
- Department facilities
- CAST alumni organization
- Department visibility (academic and performance)
- MFA Theater Design Program
- PSA (Presidential Scholars in the Arts program)
- Department bylaws
- Relationship with other departments (Art, Music, English, Film Studies, and Museum Studies)
Prior to 1968, the Speech Department did not have a “drama” component in the curriculum. The theater activities were part of a student group known as the Masque and Bauble. This campus activities club produced mostly children’s theater and the occasional musical in Lisner Auditorium with a speech faculty member as advisor. In 1969 the department included “Drama” as a legitimate academic track within the curriculum. Two faculty members were assigned to teach and develop courses for the new academic track. Under the leadership of the Chair Professor Leggette the departments’ course offerings increased along with increased student interest in the discipline of theater. When I arrived four and half years after Professor Nathan Garner, the department was a “three person” operation and was a division of the Speech and Drama Department. At that time Dr. Sydney James was Director of Drama, Nate Garner (who was on sabbatical), Paul Parady, Dean Munroe (Technical Director), and I were trying to identify curriculum/production needs to meet the insurgence of growth in undergraduate and graduate programs.
A changing of the guard took place. Sydney James, Dean Munroe, and Paul Parady(deceased) left and Leslie Jacobson, Alan Wade, and Zoe Tauss (costume designer) arrived. Along with the additional faculty the drama curriculum grew. The MFA program emphasized acting, directing, and design. The program had enrollment of 10 MFA candidates in a 36 semester hour curriculum. The undergraduate drama program also grew to approximately 40 majors. In the academic year of 1980-81 the department hired its fourth costume designer in 10 years-William Pucilowsky. Margot Kernan assumed a new faculty position to teach film studies, which consisted of 7 new core courses (foot note1) (1980/81 University Bulletin). The Drama division of the Speech and Drama Department remained constant from 1981 through 1984 with adjustments in the undergraduate drama major curriculum. The 1984-85 year ushered in an additional Design/Technical Director faculty position which William Balling (MFA Design Alum) assumed. The department was renamed The Department of Communications and Theater.
The speech Pathology/Audiology program separated and formed a new department. From 1985 thru 1987, the faculty concentrated on refining the undergraduate program in theatre and expanded the MFA design program to 54 semester hours in keeping with the ATHEA recommendations.
The 1987-88 academic years proved to be the boldest adjustment in the history of the program date, the transfer of the dance programs from the Department of Human Kinetics and Leisure Studies in the School of Education to the newly titled Department of Theater and Dance within the Columbian School of Arts and Sciences. All of the name changes, horse trading, and redefining ourselves during this period was under the guidance of Alan Wade who served as Chair of the Department. In the 1988-89 academic year the technical director resigned and the acting/directing faculty disbanded the MFA acting and directing program in favor of a more regress undergraduate acting core of courses.
In the academic year of 1989-90 Nancy Johnson assumed the role of Chairperson and Carl Gudenius became the latest faculty member to join the department as Technical Director/Lighting Designer. This faculty position was created in 1987-88 because of the merger of Dance and Theater programs in anticipation of significant increase in production support for the “Main Stage Season”.
The department was extremely active with many positive changes and additions during the 1993-94 academic years. A new design studio and design office were constructed by converting the costume storage space and moving costume storage to the 4th and 5th floors of Lisner Auditorium. A High profile for the campus fine and performing arts departments became possible by President Trachtenberg establishing the Presidential Arts Scholarship program. The department benefited by the establishment of the Presidential Arts Scholarship awards which are a significant part of the undergraduate curriculum focus as is witnessed by 40 dance and theater PAS students in 2007. The Department turned its attention to the merger of the theater and dance curricula. Additionally in 1993 the department jointly launched a new Dramatic Literature Major with the English Department, thus a new joint appointment was created to administer to the program as well as teach the theater history courses. In 1994-95 the Dean’s decision to recommend to the faculty that the MFA Dance Program be dismantled created a challenge for the Dancefaculty to reinvent the undergraduate dance curriculum with a strong emphasis on the PAS students to revitalize the dance programs and rely on guest artists to supplement the faculty.
New graduate level design course offerings in museum exhibit design were developed to reflect the insurgence of Museum Exhibit Design students interested in pursuing this discipline. The MFA designProgram graduated six students before the Exhibit Design emphasis was dismantled in 1998 because of CCAS budgetary constraints.
The 1998-99 academic years were an interesting turn of good fortune for the University as a whole. The Mount Vernon College was purchased from Georgetown University; from that business venture the department had gained another faculty position to the Dance Division. Professor Mary Buckley is also the Director of the Women’s Leadership Program at the Mount Vernon Campus. The 1998-99 academic years were also the start of the long anticipated renovation of the Marvin Center. After nearly 7 years of debate the building renovation finally had begun, however most of the renovation for the Betts Theater was cosmetic with ADA updates. The department profited from the renovation. The 2000 -2001 years ushered in a new millennium and additional physical facilities to include new department office/Chairperson office, promotions office, four additional faculty offices, and two new classroom/studios. This was a welcomed move because the previous year The department productions were produced in the Hand Chapel at the Mount Vernon campus, (vaguely resembling a legitimate theater space). From 2002 to the present the department had four faculty searches which have successfully added one additional faculty positioning Dance occupied by professor Tai Soon Burgess and one additional position in theater design held by professor Valerie St. Pierre Smith. Our program began to grow. Our current dance and theater undergraduate programs continue to reflect a robust enrollment and a steady increase in department majors: ( # theater # dance #minors).
On a sad note. Professor Garner passed away in the spring semester 2006 which left a significant void to fill for the remaining year and the following year. The department was granted a replacement tenure track position for Prof. Garner’s position. The department completed the search and offered the position to Professor Jodi Kantor. At the end of the 2007 spring semester. A additional faculty position was awarded to the department in the design discipline in 2008’. The Technical director/ scenic designer position that is currently held by professor Carmen Gomez.