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History of Drama on Campus

From its inception, Drama organized its curriculum around the production of plays, and this study of plays through production yielded a “production-centered” curriculum. A series of required “core” courses in dramatic literature/theatre history provided a common focus as well as a template of study units that highlighted key periods and styles of western theatre history. This model ensured academic breadth as well as historical and generic variety in the annual season of plays. In its first few decades, Drama at the university was among a small handful of regularly producing theatre venues in Calgary. Therefore it attracted both critical notice in the local media and large audiences eager to sample the educative range of its programming. Notable productions from these years included Victor Mitchell’s dark, post-Brechtian reworking of Jacobean drama; Philip McCoy’s stylish updating of Shakespeare and Dryden; Keith Johnstone’s challenging productions of Buchner and Beckett; and Joyce Doolittle’s experiments with Canadian, Eastern European and classical drama. While Drama occasionally produced well-known, canonical works, more often than not it showcased extraordinary and rarely seen plays. Drama took the view that producing obscure and neglected works would deepen the educational experience of students as well as provide balance to the mainstream fare of more commercial theatre. This resistance to orthodoxy created a culture in which alternative views of dramatic and theatrical expression were able to take root and thrive. Puppet theatre, theatre for young audiences, collective creation and avant-garde experimentation claimed their place in the curriculum and performance calendar. This eclecticism led to a multi-platform approach to production, the Main Season of plays being eventually augmented by a noon hour series of productions, a variety of course-based studio performances, as well as summer stagings that provided employment for students.

In the 1990’s, Drama, which had originally organized itself according to “divisions” of the discipline, adopted a more integrated approach to its administration as well as a more global understanding of the study and production of drama. Increasingly, the curriculum and productions have made the creation of drama/theatre a site of investigation equal in importance to the interpretation of plays. Since the mid-nineties, new plays (Clem Martini’s The Deck, 19--), and original performance creations (The Ramayana 19--; The Millennium Project 2000) have been featured in the Main Season alongside the continued offering of extant classical and contemporary plays. These developments parallel a shift in the way students contribute to productions. In the beginning, students learned through being directed and supervised by their professors in the plays of the production season. In more recent times, a cultural shift has allowed both undergraduate and graduate students to achieve increased creative autonomy and responsibility for their individual and collective learning, a phenomenon illustrated brilliantly by the annual Taking Flight Festival, a tremendously successful showcase of student-generated work.

Independent learning of this kind has not lowered the standard or the professional quality of work produced. In fact, increased attention to the polyvocal spectrum of drama/theatre has inspired a steadily growing emphasis on the artistic skills needed for its production.