A Dramatic Change

January 31, 2002

 

After more than two decades of work by faculty and administrators, the drama program has attained departmental status, and is now officially recognized as the department of theater studies.

"It signifies for many that theater is now a fully embraced academic discipline at the university," says Richard Riddell, chair of the new department.

The upgrade to departmental status represents the culmination of an effort that began more than a quarter century ago. As early as 1975, English professor John Clum, founder of the program in drama, began advocating the establishment of a department. Clum's longstanding dedication to theater and multifaceted contributions helped strengthen the program over the years, Riddell says, as well as affirm theater in the eyes of many at Duke as a discipline worthy of academic emphasis.

In 1999, Riddell submitted a proposal to William Chafe, dean of the faculty of arts and sciences, to establish the Department of Theater Studies. He noted that the program had grown considerably since its founding and established a clear artistic and intellectual profile.

Today, the department's focus on new work encourages playwriting by students, faculty, and guest artists. Staged readings, laboratory theater, and main-stage productions in Reynolds Theater all give Duke students access to outlets to experience new work in theater.

"We feel that presenting new work fits perfectly into the mission of a research university," says Zannie Voss, producing director of Theater Previews, the professional theater arm of the department. "The real value of research is to add to the greater body of knowledge. With the creative acts of the writer or actor or designer, they, too, are adding to knowledge."

The proposal to establish a department was reviewed by the Academic Priorities Committee over the course of 2000 and formally approved by the board of trustees last May. The upgrade in status also fit with goals outlined in the university's strategic plan, "Building on Excellence," including the integration of the arts into the mission of the university and a greater emphasis on interdisciplinary work. Over the past year, professors in classical studies, English, literature, and Romance studies have been appointed to secondary appointments in theater studies.