The Beginning 1929-1956
Theatre at the University of Memphis had its beginnings in the Department of English
in 1929. This makes us one of the longest continually performing theatre organizations
in Memphis. In 1949, the Department of Speech and Drama was created, “dedicated to
present the living theatre in worthwhile plays of past and present.” The two-person
department produced and directed five plays per season in addition to a summer program
that consisted of a full-length play and a series of one-acts.The department began
its community outreach in 1952 with student performances in schools and civic clubs.
Continued Progress 1957-1969
In 1957, Memphis State received full university status and the faulty of the Department
of Speech and Drama increased to three professors. A Master's of Art degree was first
offered in 1966/-65, and a year later the department found a new home in the present
The Hair Era 1970-1983
In 1970, under the direction of Keith Kennedy, the University's first Director of
Theatre, the department produced the controversial Broadway hit musical Hair. In 1973 the Master of Fine Arts degree in Theatre was instituted, and the dance
program was incorporated into the department in 1983.
Establishing the Department of Theatre & Dance 1995-1999
In 1995 the Department of Speech and Drama became the Department of Theatre & Dance,
and Robert A. Hetherington joined the faculty as department chair in 1997. Under his
guidance, the department has grown and forged strong relationships with Memphis theatres.
The guest artist and European theatre exchange programs have expanded and the technical
program has advanced. The department operates state-of-the-art sound and lighting
equipment as well as computer numerical control (CNC).
Continued Growth and Excellence 2000-Present
In 2000 Professor Emeritus Gloria Baxter was selected as the Thurber House Playwright-in-Residence
in Columbus, Ohio. She was also awarded the prestigious First Tennessee Meritorious
Professorship for 2005/08.
In 2001 the department held its first alumni reunion and the tradition continued in
2007 and 2010. We are proud to say that a large percentage of our graduates continue
to work in professional theatre and film throughout the nation as well as in theatre
programs at other universities. Our alumni can also be found in the Memphis area,
working as artistic directors /executive officers local theatres such as Theatre Memphis,
Germantown Community Theatre, Playhouse on the Square, Circuit Playhouse, Voices of
the South and Project: Motion.
In 2003 the Jeniam Foundation became a generous partner of the department, supporting
a variety of projects such as the renovation and equipment acquisition for the computer
design lab. The same year, Associate Professor Stephen Hancock received the College
of Communication and Fine Arts Dean's Advising Award for excellence in undergraduate
advising and in 2004 he received the Thomas W. Briggs Foundation Excellence in Teaching
Award, the university's highest award for excellence in undergraduate teaching. In
2008, Professor John McFadden was recognized for his outstanding record of teaching,
research and service with the prestigious Benjamin W. Rawlins Jr. Professorship.