The history of theatre at the University of Minnesota extends back much further than the establishment of the University Theatre in 1931. Though we mark our beginnings from that year, the earliest group on campus formed to enjoy literary exercises and music was Delta Sigma, organized in 1867. And with apologies to all those references to the first drama on campus being a melodrama called The Last Loaf in 1881, the first was actually a “rendering” of Longfellow’s Miles Standish given by the sophomore class at their class meeting on November 26, 1879. However, you can say that The Last Loaf was indeed the first play to be presented on campus in a performance space for the public.
Over the years we have presented theatre on and off campus in a vast variety of buildings, boats, and tents; indoors and outdoors on both east bank and west bank; in Minnesota and surrounding states and various countries all over the world. We’ve been controversial, presenting controversial plays and pulling controversial productions off the season. We’ve burned buildings and boats, though none intentionally. We’ve done plays with casts of thousands (Rifle, Axe, and Plow) and we’ve done some plays many times (A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the record holder at 15, followed by The Importance of Being Earnest and Androcles and the Lion, tied at 9). Over 15,600 actors have appeared on our various stages in some 1,570 productions. In short, our history has been full of drama and not all of it on the stage!
Finally, dance was added to the program. More than just the excellent choreography provided for musicals, under the newly created Department of Theatre Arts & Dance, we have begun to embrace dance performance and curriculum on the west bank. Just as the theatre program had achieved its own building in 1973, the dance program achieved the Barbara Barker Center for Dance in 1999, just an easy walk up the street from Rarig Center.