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Department of Theatre Arts papers

Identifier: ua-00908

Scope and Content

This collection represents the department of theatre arts and University Theatre. Departmental material includes meeting minutes, correspondence, and reports as well as papers relating to Frank Rarig. University Theatre material includes play information, play bills and publicity. The papers of the department of speech, communication and theatre arts are held as a separate collection. Consult this collection also when using the papers of the department of theatre arts.


  • Creation: 1914-1983


Language of Materials


Use of Materials

Items in this collection do not circulate and may be used in-house only.


Researchers may quote from the collection under the fair use provision of the copyright law (Title 17, U.S. Code). Requests to publish should be arranged with the University of Minnesota Archives.

Historical Note

The first theatrical presentation at the University of Minnesota, The Last Loaf, was performed in 1881 by the freshman class. Plays were performed sporadically by various groups until 1896 when the Dramatics Club was organized. In 1909, the first class in theater was offered for credit through the Dramatics Club.

The Masquers were formed in 1909, and three years later two more drama groups were started, the University Players and David Garrick. Three other groups were founded in 1919, Paint and Patches (a women's organization), the Arabs (College of Engineering Students) and Punchinello Players.

Plays by these groups were performed around campus until 1922 when Scott Hall (the music building) was built and drama students were allowed to use some rooms in the basement. In 1925, the three main groups (Paint and Patches, Masquers and University Players) were combined by drama director Lester Raines to become the Minnesota Masquers. It remained a separate club until 1963 when it was disbanded.

In 1927, the department of speech was established and the study of theater as a discipline was made available, with Frank E. Rarig as chair. The department was renamed speech and theatre arts in 1951 and speech, communications and theatre arts in 1966.

Also in 1927, the University Workshop Theatre was formed. An outgrowth of the Drama Hour, established in 1924 and later called the University Theatre Laboratory, it served as the central group for producing plays on campus and for tours. Edward Staadt was hired as director of dramatics. With his death in 1931, A. Dale Riley took over the theater activities and introduced the name University Theatre with experimental drama as the focus.

In 1936 with the death of A. Dale Riley, C. Lowell Lees became head of the University Theatre. In 1937, Frank M. Whiting, a graduate student, was hired as a technician and set designer. By 1939 Whiting became technical director and Kenneth L. Graham the director. He and Whiting set the University Theatre on a new course that included children's theatre. In 1942, Whiting became acting director and then head of the University Theatre in 1944.

In 1957, the University Theatre acquired the Minnesota Centennial Showboat. Called the General John Newton, it was purchased from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in New Orleans, and financed by the Minnesota Centennial Commission and the University of Minnesota Theatre for use in the state's centennial celebration in 1958. The first summer production performed was Under the Gaslight.

In 1960, Sir Tyrone Guthrie decided to build a new theater in Minneapolis, based on the strong reputation of the University Theatre. Through the efforts of Frank Whiting and John Cowles, Jr., the Walker Foundation provided land and an initial investment of $400,000 to build the Guthrie Theatre.

In 1963, the Office for Advanced Drama Research (OADR) was established in the department of speech and theatre arts with a grant of $74,000 from the Rockefeller Foundation to explore the problems that inhibit the development of drama and the theater. The focus of the study was placed primarily on playwriting and Arthur Ballet directed the project.

In 1971, construction began for a new performing arts center at the University. That same year, Frank Whiting announced his retirement as director of the University Theatre and Kenneth L. Graham was named director. In July, the disciplines of speech and theatre arts were separated into two separate departments. Graham, who had been chairman of the department of speech, communication and theatre arts since 1963, was named chair of the department of theatre arts and director of University Theatre.

In 1973, the Rarig Center, the new home of University Theatre, was completed. It was named for Frank E. Rarig, the director of the department of speech and theatre arts from 1927-1948. In 1987, the dance program located in the department of physical education was moved to the department of theatre arts and renamed the department of theatre arts and dance. A new building, the Barbara Barker Center for Dance, was completed in 1999.

Notes were primarily taken from Heroes and Clowns: A History of the University Theatre, Department of Theatre Arts, University of Minnesota [1973].


45 boxes (58.5 linear feet)


Collection contains the papers of the Department of Theatre Arts at the University of Minnesota.

Other Finding Aid Available

A finding aid with a contents list is available in University Archives.

Source of acquisition

The collection was transferred to University Archives from 1978-1990.

Related Materials in University of Minnesota Archives

Merle Loppnow papers

Frank Rarig papers

A. Dale Riley papers

Frank Whiting papers

University of Minnesota. Department of Speech, Communication and Theatre Arts papers

University of Minnesota. Office of Advanced Drama Research papers

University of Minnesota. Theatre Scrapbooks

Gee, R.F. "The History of the Theatre at the University of Minnesota from its Beginning to 1937." Master of Arts thesis, University of Minnesota, 1949.

Heroes and Clowns: A History of the University Theatre, Department of Theatre Arts, University of Minnesota [1973]. (MHX/T34h)

Department of Theatre Arts papers, 1914-1983
Karen Spilman; revised by Karen Klinkenberg
August 2005
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
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Finding aid written in English

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