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Actors in a scene from Madwoman of Challiot, performed during the 1972-73 season.

Actors in a scene from Madwoman of Challiot, performed during the 1972-73 University theatre season.

Celebrating two peas in a pod

Department of Theatre Arts and Dance has double anniversary

By Pauline Oo

Published on September 23, 2005

In 1881, a group of freshmen presented a play called The Last Loaf--the location of the performance and the plot since lost to history--and it was the very first theatrical show on the Twin Cities campus. Theater was not offered for credit at the University of Minnesota until 1909, and a theater program was not officially established until 1930.

Today, 75 years later, the program is flourishing, and it has a home to call its own--the Rarig Center with its myriad theater halls--talented undergraduate and graduate students, renowned faculty, famous alumni (such as Peter Graves and Loni Anderson), and it also has an equally successful sibling--the University's dance program.

University Theatre and University Dance were brought together under a single department in 1985 and it now resides in the vibrant West Bank Arts Quarter, with its emphasis on collaboration and innovation.

The Department of Theatre Arts and Dance has planned a double anniversary celebration this performance season, called 75:20.

"[It's human nature to] always look for points of celebration," says C Lance Brockman, the scenic design professor who is coordinating the grand affair. "We celebrated our 50th anniversary and it was extremely meaningful to the students and our audiences, so we thought we would try and do the same thing with the 75th."

The department has invited several alumni back this year to direct and choreograph shows on its main stage, joining a group called the producers (made up of faculty and student representatives) who decides on a season's lineup with input from the department's various programs--such as the acting, design tech, and directing. Theatre arts and dance department alums are directing all six shows: Raye Birk, The Madwoman of Chaillot; Stephen Kanee, A Midsummer Night's Dream; Marge Maddux, Danial Shapiro, Joanie Smith, Carl Flink, and Zoe Sealy, Dance Revolutions; Tisch Jones, Las Meninas; and Barbra Berlovitz, Cabaret.

The U has close to 300 students majoring in theater and dance and about 50 graduate students enrolled in the theatre arts and dance department.

The 75:20 Season

All shows will be performed in the Rarig Center on the Twin Cities campus in Minneapolis.

The Madwoman of Chaillot
Oct. 14 - 23
A satire by Jean Giraudoux about a woman who leads a crusade against ruthless businessmen and their greedy materialism.

A Midsummer Night's Dream
Nov. 11 - 20 and Jan. 27 - Feb. 5, 2006
A Shakespeare comedy about two couples and their romantic misadventures.

Dance Revolutions
December 9 - 11
A showcase of different dances with choreography by U alums.

Las Meninas
February 24 - March 5, 2006
Or "ladies in waiting," a play by Lynn Nottage about an affair between the queen of France and an African man; and the fate of their child.

Cabaret
April 20 - 29, 2006
Based on a book by Joe Masteroff, this musical follows the romance of an English cabaret performer and an American writer in Berlin at the beginning of the Third Reich.

Tickets are available by calling the Box Office at 612-624-2345.

"There are several things that have [allowed our theater and dance program to withstand the years]," says Brockman, who has been with the department for more than 30 years. "First of all, we have always been in a rich cultural community, with so many ways to benefit our students beyond what we do in the classroom. Our students are actively involved, most of them from their sophomore year on, with the [larger Twin cities cultural] community--either observing or interning."

Internships have been apart of this department's culture "for a very long time," says Brockman, and are born of the department's philosophy that "the best way to learn is by working with consummate professionals."

As the oldest theater company in Minnesota, University Theatre is credited with developing the relationship with Tyrone Guthrie that in 1960 compelled him to choose Minneapolis as the location for the Guthrie Theater. The Department of Theatre Arts and Dance in partnership with the Guthrie offers a bachelor of fine arts actor-training program, which auditions 400 to 500 people each year in Minnesota as well as cities such as New York, Houston, Chicago, and San Francisco for 20 coveted spots in the freshman class. (While the partnership does not guarantee a place on the Guthrie stage, each year four U students may land speaking parts in Guthrie performances.)

Brockman says another plus of the department is having both theater and dance programs. "We're doing a lot more collaborative pieces because we have dance as a component, whereas most theater departments do not have dance as part of their curriculum."

So what can audiences expect from the anniversary lineup?

"The nice thing about this season is that it brings some of the best shows we've done together," says Brockman. "With the exception of Las Meninas, we've done all of these plays several times...."

The department has created a new anniversary Web site and will host a reunion weekend in April 2006, which includes a sneak preview tour of the new Guthrie Theater.

For more information on the 75:20 season and related events, visit the Department of Theatre Arts & Dance.

To learn more about the history of University theater, read the online summary of Heroes and Clowns, which was published by the theatre department in 1973. Original copies of the book are available at University Archives and Wilson Library (the call no. is TC Wilson Library 810.128 M666m Regular Loan).

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