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Department History

The major part of this web page is adapted from an essay by Kevin S. Moore, who received research assistance from Sheila Duffer; the essay was published in 1991 in a pamphlet commemorating the 50th anniversary of the University Theatre building.

It was decided that at the east end of the structure there would be a University Theatre having had nothing for ten years, for us it was literally entering the "Promised Land." It was to be ours to have and to hold; in addition, we were a part of the same building where professionals would appear in plays, operas, symphonies, ballets, modern dance, vocal and instrumental concerts, where lectures on every conceivable subject would be given, and where we could present some of our more amibitous student programs.

- Lee Norvelle, The Road Taken

1920-39

Theatre on the campus of Indiana University did not suddenly begin in 1941 with the construction of the Indiana University Auditorium with its east theatre wing that housed the University Theatre and the Department of Theatre and Drama. As early as the 1880s, student groups were performing plays on the Bloomington campus.

Formed in 1887, a Shakespeare Club mounted an annual production of a Shakespearean play. By 1915 several campus drama groups were active, and th Department of English offered the first theatre course, The Staging of Plays.

In 1928 Lee Norvelle joined the English faculty and in the following year formed the University Players. This troupe brought together theatre talent from at least seven organizations then producing drama on campus. The University Players served as the model for the University Theatre, a prduction organization founded in 1933.

The curriculum for a theatre program evolved from the rhetoric and elocution classes offered by the Department of Enghlish's Oral English Division, which in 1931 became the Division of Speech. By the late thirties the Speech Division offered such courses as Play Acting, Play Production, Stage Lighting and Make-up, Theatre Practice, and Pulitzer Prize Plays. This early curriculum reflected a diversity of courses in acting, directing, design, and dramatic literature still prevalent in today’s curriculum.

The stage (University Theatre) adjoining the Auditorium stage, known for all these years as the stage of the Little Theatre, has a golden history of its own and has been so productive of luminaries and such a magnet to students with ambitions in the theatre that the Theatre and its reputation are virtually bursting at the seams.

Chancellor Herman B Wells, March 23, 1991

1940-59

In 1941 a theatre wing was opened in the new Indiana University Auditorium. Identified as the University Theatre, or "Little Theatre," it provided a home for an already-flourishing tradition of drama and performance. The wing, which was funded and built under the guidance of Indiana University president Herman B Wells and comptroller Ward G. Biddle, established a permanent performance arena for the theatre program. The facility included a proscenium stage, two prop rooms, a scenic design room, a Green Room, two chorus rooms, four dressing rooms, and seven staff offices.

Four sections of Thomas Hart Benton’s Indiana Murals, created for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, were incorporated into the decor of the University Theatre, and Benton visited the campus to assist in their installation.

Under the direction of Lee Norvelle, assisted by Foster Harmon, the student performance group known as the Jordan River Revue opened the new building on March 19, 1941, with an original variety show of music and comedy, "Take the Day." The world premiere of William Saroyan’s Jim Dandy highlighted the second season of the University Theatre.

When the new facility was opened, the theatre faculty was comprised of Norvelle, Harmon, and Virgil A. Smith. American theatre historian Richard A. Moody joined the faculty in 1942, followed by lighting designer and director Gerhard W. Gaiser in 1944.

In 1945 the Board of Trustees of Indiana University created the Department of Speech and appointed Lee Norvelle as chair. Costume designer, director, and scenographer Richard L. Scammon came to Indiana University in 1946, and the department began to offer a class in costume construction the following year.

In the summer of 1949, in partnership with Nashville businessman Jack Rogers, Lee Norvelle opened the Brown County Playhouse in the small southern Indiana town, known mostly for its spectacular scenery and its artist colony. Consisting then of a barn and tent, the not-for-profit Playhouse opened its first season with the comedy The Old Soak by Don Marquis. Still in operation, the Brown County Playhouse has become one of the longest-running summer stock theatres in the Midwest, serving as a professional training ground for actors, directors, and designers.

Several important additions to the faculty in the 1950s enabled the department to offer increasingly specialized courses. William E. Kinzer joined the faculty in 1951 to teach acting and directing, and Hubert C. Heffner came from Stanford in 1954 to strengthen the dramatic literature, history, and theory courses for the newly established doctoral program. David Hawes also arrived in 1954 and developed courses in children's theatre and oral interpretation.

In 1957 Eugene K. Bristow, who later became a nationally recognized scholar of Russian theatre and drama, joined the faculty. That same year Lee Norvelle retired after devoting 32 years to Indiana University. Upon Norvelle's retirement, Jeffery Auer became chair of the Department of Speech and Theatre, and Richard Moody was named director of the Indiana University theatre program.

I was bowled over by the power of a great play, how it can just pick you up and take you along. And I loved the kind of fun we were having in rehearsal. There was a kind of energy there, and what enchanted me then has stayed with me all my life. There was a brawling energy and speed Bill [Kinzer] used in his productions. That’s still a big part of me, a kind of energy I learned from him.

Charles Kimbrough (BA 1958)

1960-79

The Sixties was a decade of unprecedented activity in academics and productions. The Department of Speech and Theatre acquired the paddle-wheeler Showboat Majestic, thereby creating another performance opportunity theatre students. The Majestic presented variety programs and melodramas along the banks of the Ohio River in the summer seasons from 1960-1966. Graduate theatre students were also active in the Indiana Theatre Company, which toured Indiana and adjacent states. Joining the department in 1963 as director of graduate studies was theatre historian Oscar Brockett, whose theatre history texts became standard reading throughout the country. Room T300 in the theatre wing was remodeled into a studio theatre space, which opened in 1963 with performances of Murray Schisgal’s one-acts "The Typists" and "The Tiger."

In 1964, the Ralph L. Collins Memorial Lectures, co-sponsored by the departments of English and Speech and Theatre, began in 1964. Over the years, this lecture series, honoring the former vice president, dean of faculties, and professor of English, has brought many of the world’s leading theatre scholars and practitioners to the campus of Indiana University.

In 1969 the department welcomed Leon I. Brauner as head of costume design, Frank Silberstein as technical director and designer, and Walter F. Meserve as historian of American theatre.

In 1971 R. Keith Michael became chair of the newly established Department of Theatre and Drama. A growing student population led to an urgent need for administrative personnel and for increased space. G. James Olsen joined the staff as administrative director in 1974; Durand L. Pope assumed the position in 1976. Productions received growing support throughout the Seventies with the creation of the positions of costume shop supervisor, assistant technical director/scene shop supervisor, and dramaturg.

In 1977 the university converted the former Chi Omega sorority house on Jordan Avenue into the Theatre Studio Building to provide needed office space, rehearsal rooms, and design studios. In that same year the old Brown County Playhouse was demolished and in its place a new?and enclosed?theatre was constructed with a thrust stage, air conditioning, and a 400-seat auditorium.

The Theatre Circle, a support group dedicated to the continued excellence of theatre and Indiana University, was established in 1977, with David Kramer as its first president.

The faculty continued to expand with the addition of Winona L. Fletcher in history, theory, and dramatic literature; Howard Jensen as head of the acting and directing program; Marion Bankert Michael in voice and speech; Wes Peters as head of scenic design; Sam A. Smiley as head of playwriting; and Leigh Woods in history, theory, and dramatic literature. Marvin Carlson, author of numerous books on European theatre history and theatrical theory, became director of graduate studies in 1978.

Huber Heffner retired in 1971 after 16 years in the department, and Richard L. Scammon died in 1979 after a 33-year career in the department. Gary Gaiser, with 36 years at Indiana, and David Hawes, with 26 years, retired in 1980. These four teachers dedicated a total of over 100 years in service to Indiana University.

1980-89

The Eighties were a decade of great change in the Department of Theatre and Drama. Richard A. Moody retired in 1981 after 39 years at IU, and Eugene K. Bristow's retirement in 1986 concluded his 30 years of teaching in the department. Bill Kinzer, whose career at Indiana spanned 34 years, died in 1985.

The student population continued to grow, necessitating further expansion of the faculty and staff. In 1985 Robert A. Shakespeare became head of lighting design, and Dale McFadden was appointed to the acting and directing faculty. In 1987 historian Roger Herzel, who, at the time, was the editor of Theatre Survey, joined the faculty as head of graduate studies. That same year Dennis J. Reardon became head of the playwriting program, and Ken Bush joined the acting and directing faculty. Musical theatre and stage movement specialist George Pinney also joined the faculty in 1987, and in 1988 the faculty of history, theory, and dramatic literature were expanded with the addition of Thomas Postlewait and Rakesh Solomon.

Marilyn Norris became administrative director in 1987, heading a staff which had grown to include the positions of an audience development director and an accounts manager, as well as a secretarial staff which now included an executive secretary, a departmental secretary/script librarian, and a secretary for graduate and undergraduate records.

Established in 1984 with an endowment from Lee Norvelle, the Norvelle Visitor guest artist residency program has given students the opportunity to work with the professionals in various aspects of theatrical production. During the Eighties, graduate scholarships were endowed by Foster Harmon and Lee Norvelle, and graduate awards were established in honor of Hubert Heffner and Richard Scammon. Awards were established to recognize outstanding undergraduate students: the Theatre Circle Award, the Bill Kinzer memorial scholarship, and scholarships given in memory of Russell A. Havens and alumna Ruth N. Halls.

Several prominent alumni returned to lend their expertise to the University Theatre during this decade, including Howard Ashman (MA 1974), who visited for the college premiere of his The Little Shop of Horrors in 1987. John McGreevey (EX 1942, BA 1987) was accorded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters in 1986, then returned in 1988 as a Fellow for the Institute of Advanced Study to give a series of lectures on screenwriting and the entertainment industry. Writer and producer Robert Shanks (BA 1954) returned in 1989 for the world premiere of his S. J. Perelman in Person, presented in the University Theatre.