History of the Theatre Department

The Early Years

The Department of Theatre at Miami University is one of the oldest educational theatre programs in the United States. It was founded by Loren Gates, Professor of Dramatic Art, upon his arrival at Miami University in 1905. The first officially-produced work was Gates' Commencement play, A Midsummer Night's Dream, which was staged on the banks of the Talawanda Creek that year. By 1911, Ye Merrie Players was formed as a student honorary and as the producing organization for the Department of Speech. Coursework in acting, directing, technical production and theatre history was offered along with a regular season of plays. Gates served as Director of Theatre until his death in 1941. He was succeeded by Professor Homer Abegglen who witnessed the rapid expansion of enrollments at Miami following World War II, and an expansion of the faculty in theatre to five by the time of his retirement in 1966. The first Master of Arts in Theatre was awarded in 1947 to Miami Professor Emeritus Bernard Phelps.

A New Building, a New Department

Professor Donald L. Rosenberg succeeded Abegglen as Director of Theatre in time to oversee the final construction of and subsequent move to the Center for Performing Arts in 1969. The 1970's saw continuing expansion of the faculty to seven full-time members, and the gradual addition of full-time staff support in scenery, costumes and management. The number of theatre majors increased to 75. The major in Speech, which had served theatre students since 1911, was supplemented in 1975 by the introduction of a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre. Professor Rosenberg also guided the creation of a separate Department of Theatre in 1984, when he assumed the position of the first Chair of Theatre. A Bachelor of Fine Arts was introduced into the undergraduate degree program in 1985 and was offered alongside the BA until 2001 when the BFA was discontinued in favor of the liberal arts BA.

The Booming 90's

In 1992 Professor Bonnie J. Eckard was appointed Chair of the Department. By 1993 the faculty had grown to ten full-time and one part-time faculty on the Oxford campus, with three part-time faculty serving the Hamilton and Middletown branch campuses. In 1994 the Department of Theatre was accorded membership and full accreditation by the National Association of Schools of Theatre (NAST). Dr. Paul K. Jackson was appointed as Chair of the Department in July 1998 and helped guide the program through a number of significant changes including the revision of the Bachelor af Arts degree, the Master of Arts degree and the hiring of six new faculty and staff. The position of technical director was made into a full time faculty position. A major endowment from the estate of John D. Yeck was bequeathed to the department. Funds from the endowment are now regularly employed to support student scholarships, research, faculty development, and an annual John D. Yeck production during the mainstage season.

The New Century

In July of 2002, Dr. Jackson rejoined the faculty at large and was succeeded as chair by Dr. Willam Doan. Under Dr. Doan, the new BA curriculum took root and graduated its first class. The department, including the new degree, received reaccreditation from NAST. In Summer 2006, Dr. Doan assumed the role of Associate Dean for the School of Fine Arts and Dr. Elizabeth Reitz-Mullinex was appointed Chair. In the ensuing years, the department successfully relocated its main office into a larger space in the Center for Performing Arts, focused its curriculum, and began a series of interdisciplinary degree collaborations including the creation of a minor in music theatre with the Department of Music. Dr. Mullenix was appointed Dean of the (newly renamed) College of Creative Arts in 2013, and was succeeded in the chairship by Associate Professor Julia Guichard.

Location, Location, Location!

Prior to 1958, the Theatre performed in old Harrison Hall on a makeshift stage on the upper floor. Harrison was demolished in 1958 to make room for new buildings. That year, historic Fisher Hall, built in 1856, became the home of Theatre after the remodeling of the dining room into a 200-seat flexible stage facility. Between 1958 and 1965 Fisher was used primarily for student project productions and an occasional major production while old Benton Hall (now renamed Hall Auditorium) was used for most major plays.

From 1965 to 1969, the Theatre Program sought to unify all of its work by making Fisher Hall the one home for Theatre rather than splitting activities between multiple buildings. In September of 1969, Theatre moved to the Center for Performing Arts. Between 1987 and 2006 both theatres have seen major facilities and production equipment renovation. Fisher Hall was demolished in 1980; the site is now occupied by the Marcum Conference Center.

Presser Hall, long the site of many theatre classes, completed major renovations in the Summer of 2008 and became the new home of the Music Department. The CPA was remodeled to accommodate all of the theatre faculty and provide a new main office and shared resources with the School of Creative Arts. Classrooms located in Presser were replaced with a new acting studio, design studio, and a playwriting & lighting laboratory in neighboring Hiestand Hall.

All Good Things...

In the summer of 1966, Miami University Summer Theatre (MUST) was founded under the guidance of Dr. Donald Rosenberg, and named The Village Playhouse to describe the joint campus-community nature of its program. The Summer Theatre offered course work in repertory and theatre practicum and joined both students and area participants in a highly successful series of summer work, including major productions, a high school Drama Workshop, a Creative Dramatics Workshop and Children's Theatre productions. The Summer Theatre traditionally performed two productions in rotating repertory during the month of July.

Like many summer theatre programs across the country, MUST fell victim to fewer resources and competition from other summer entertainments. The last MUST production, Seussical the Musical was presented in the Summer of 2005.

(History compiled by Mike Griffith and Gion DeFrancesco)