- Study of dramatic literature at colleges and universities in the United States dates to well before the American Revolution. Before the middle of the 19th century, however, there is little evidence to suggest that plays were frequently performed on campuses or that the techniques of staging them were studied. Harvard University's Hasty Pudding Club began producing plays in 1844 with Lemuel Hayward's burlesque of a burlesque, Bombastes Furioso. Among those who participated during their student days were Robert E. Sherwood and Alan Jay Lerner.Other literary societies that sprang up at colleges after the Civil War sometimes mounted theatrical productions as extracurricular activities. Among these were Princeton University's Dramatic Association (1888), which ultimately became the Triangle Club, and the Mask and Wig Club at the University of Pennsylvania (1889). In 1881, Harvard students spent six months rehearsing Oedipus Rex in Greek for a performance considered to be the first of its kind in the United States.William O. Partridge, a Columbia University professor, called for the creation of drama classes and departments of theatre as early as 1886. Brander Matthews became the first professor of dramatic literature at Columbia University in 1902. The first formalized instruction in theatrical techniques appears to have been George Pierce Baker's English 47 course at Harvard, first offered in 1905. In 1912, Baker added the 47 Workshop for aspiring playwrights and the result was a generation of important writers, including Eugene O'Neill (who participated in the 47 Workshop in 1914-1915), Philip Barry, Sidney Howard, and others.Baker's course soon inspired other faculty at various institutions to offer theatre courses. Baylor, the University of North Dakota, DePauw, Swarthmore, the University of Iowa, Cornell, Columbia, Princeton, Smith, and others added theatre to the curriculum and as a regular feature of extracurricular activities. Carnegie Institute of Technology claims the first department of dramatic arts, established in 1914 under the guidance of Thomas Wood Stevens and Ben Iden Payne. In 1925, Baker, who had moved to Yale, set up a department of drama there. By the end of the 1920s, many colleges and universities had established academic departments (or at least regularly offered courses) in theatre.See also amateur theatres.
The Historical Dictionary of the American Theater. James Fisher.
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