The current Department of Theatre Arts traces its ancestry back almost to the founding of the schools that would eventually become Ithaca College. In 1892, Grant Egbert founded the Ithaca Conservatory of Music. In 1897, George Williams (who would become the second president of the institution) began teaching courses in elocution, which evolved into the School of Expression and Dramatic Art.
With the conservatory under the guidance of George Williams, the dramatic arts thrived. The “Little Theatre” was renovated and became the home of a professional stock company that taught and performed with drama students.
The first Bachelor of Science degree in Drama was awarded in 1931 when the Ithaca Conservatory and Affiliated Schools was chartered as Ithaca College, with the Williams School of Expression becoming the Division of Drama-Speech.
As course offerings in drama became more specialized and professionalized, the Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drama was implemented in 1944, and the Bachelor of Science degree in Drama became a Bachelor of Arts in the same year. In 1971, new concentrations in acting, theatrical design and technical theater were introduced. These concentrations were approved as separate B.F.A. degree programs in 1984.
In 1976-77, at the suggestion of the National Association of Schools of Theatre (NAST), The Department of Theatre Arts became one of the first theatre programs in the country to attain accreditation by that body. Also in 1976-77, the department began offering a concentration in theatre arts management (which became a degree program in 1983).
In 1981 the Department of Theatre Arts-Speech Communication (as Drama-Speech had become) split into two separate departments. This was followed in 1982 by the introduction of the B.F.A. in Musical Theatre.
During the 1970’s and 80’s, the department was an active participant in Region II of the American College Theatre Festival (ACTF). The department hosted the Region II ACTF festival in 1972, 1973, 1986, 1987 and 1993. Between 1985 and 2000, six of the department’s productions were selected to perform at the Region II ACTF festival.
The Dillingham Center for the Performing Arts has been the home of the Department of Theatre Arts since 1969. For twenty years, the department shared the building with the School of Communication. In 1989, Communications moved to its own building, and Theatre Arts assumed control of most of the space in Dillingham Center. This created more space for dance and rehearsal studios, offices, classrooms and the costume shop.
Alumni in every incarnation of drama and expression at Ithaca College have maintained close ties to the school. The earliest record of a formal Alumni association was when 34 graduates founded the Alumni of the Williams School of Expression in 1908. Over the years, this group has grown into an active family of over 1200 interconnected Drama or Theatre Arts alumni (or 2.7% of all graduates of Ithaca College since 1931). These older graduates offer their time and talents to assist students and each other reach success in the highly competitive entertainment industry. Formal evidence of these strong ties are: an alumna-endowed special fund for visits to campus by alumni guest artists who work with and advise the students and faculty; “Field Studies”, a weeklong trip Ithaca College seniors take to New York City during which they attend shows, events and panels involving Ithaca alumni (held annually since the early 1980’s); and, the showcase senior acting and musical theatre majors have presented to New York City casting professionals since 1990.
As a living art, theater has evolved continuously through twenty-five centuries. Dramatic enactments and spectacle, both live and mediated, are integral parts of public life throughout the world. As a department, we have had a long tradition of guiding students as they develop their skills in the creation, performance, management and interpretation of theater. As the very nature and definition of theater evolves with the onset of the 21st century, so the Department of Theatre Arts is poised not only to envision and create theater in both traditional and unexpected venues, but to prepare our students to conceive whatever form theater may assume in the years to come.