Department History

The first theatre production at USU was The Galley Slave by Bartley Campbell in 1895, celebrating five years of education at Old Main. Theatre at Utah State for the next 16 years was done purely by voluntary club members. In 1911 the Department of Speech was formed and theatre classes were first taught as part of the university curriculum. Productions increased from once a year to 6 and were staged in the Auditorium and Little Theatre of Old Main. Theatre remained a part of the Speech department until 1956, when the new Fine Arts Department was formed; which also housed music and art.

That same year, The Speech department established a children’s theatre touring program for Cache Valley elementary students. This program ran until 1973. In 1958, “Opportunity Theatre”, a summer season of two productions, opened its first of 8 seasons. The High School of Performing Arts in New York City was in residence and performed for each production.

The Lyric Theatre was obtained after a fire nearly destroyed the building in 1960. By 1961 the stage had been restored and the theatre reopened with a production of Hamlet. The Lyric became the primary performance space until 1967, when the Department moved to the new Chase Fine Arts Center. With the opening of this building the Fine Arts Department was split and the Theatre Department became autonomous. Dr. Twain Tippetts, from the Art department, served as interim head for one year while a search was conducted for the founding Department head and faculty. Floyd T. Morgan, from the Speech department, was selected to fill the chair. Vosco Call, Sid Perkes, and Kimberly Brandt were the other selected founding members. During the search, Floyd, along with theatre Prof. Vosco Call, founded the Old Lyric Repertory Company with Vosco as Artistic Director. The OLRC offered two summer productions and 18 performances that first season. Today the Lyric Rep produces 4 shows a season with approximately 40 performances each summer.

Students performing An Illiad
Students in the Theatre Arts department at USU performing An Illiad

Floyd Morgan’s first act as Department Head was to form the Dance for Theatre program, which moved to the Health, Physical Education and Recreation Department in 1974. The dance program was cancelled in 1998 and the remaining dance courses were again returned to the Department of Theatre.

In 1970 the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences was organized and the Department was renamed the Department of Theatre Arts. The department and OLRC became members of the University/Resident Theatre Association in 1973. Prof. Morgan retired in 1975 but was retained as Emeritus Professor with continued directing and teaching responsibilities until 1982. Floyd stayed an active part of the Theatre community in Cache Valley until his passing in 2002.

Vosco Call was appointed Department head in 1975. That same year, the Oral Interpretation program was moved from the Speech Department. Oral Interpretation provided Readers Theatre and numerous other programs to Cache Valley, the most known of which was the Gwendella Thornley Poetry Speaking Festival, which annually drew 200 to 400 high school and college participants. The festival continued until 1989.

For five years beginning in 1977, the department participated in the Utah Arts Consortium program which toured productions into rural communities. During the 1980’s a large restructuring of curriculum took place adding the newly approved Bachelor of Fine Arts degree to the original Bachelor of Art option. The BFA program required an emphasis in performance/directing, design/technology, or education.

In 1984 Vosco Call stepped down as department head, and Sid Perkes, the last remaining founding Faculty, was appointed. In 1985, the Studio Stage production season was implemented to provide students with additional experience in contemporary and experimental theatre, this was later called the Conservatory Season and continued to run till 2004.

Morgan Theatre Stage
The Morgan Theatre Stage is the main performance venue for Theatre Arts at USU

In 1987 OLRC secured a contract with Actor’s Equity Association which allowed students to obtain points toward their Equity card. The OLRC used the contract to the benefit of students until the early 90s. Also in 1987, the University began to remove the Oral Interpretation program. The program was fully discontinued in 1998.

Vosco Call retired in 1993 with Emeritus status. Prof. Perkes stepped down as department head in 1997. Colin Johnson was appointed as the new department head. Prof. Perkes retired with Emeritus status in 1999.

In 1999 a playwriting program was developed, the program was discontinued in 2001. In 2009, Prof. Johnson stepped down as Department Head. Prof. Craig Jessop, Head of the Department of Music, was assigned as interim department head.

In 2010, the Departments of Art, Music, Art, Interior Design, Nora Eccles Museum, and Production Services split off from the College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences to become the Caine College of Arts. Prof. Jessop was promoted to Dean and Prof. Johnson reluctantly retook the position of interim Department Head till his retirement in 2011 with Emeritus Status. 2010 also saw a large restructuring of the education program.

2011 academic year brought in Prof. Kenneth Risch as Department Head. Major restructuring work began on the acting and design programs to bring them into conformity with NAST standards. This was in preparation for beginning the NAST accreditation process. This work included an overall restructure of the department course numbering system and course progressions.

During the 2014 academic year the dance studio was remodeled, a new catwalk system was installed in the Morgan Theatre, and a sprinkler system was installed throughout the theatre wing of the Fine Arts Center which included improvements to the day to day lighting in rooms throughout the department. Plans are also under consideration for the construction of a new scene shop and expansion of the costume shop.