William & Mary boasts one of the oldest and most reputable theatre programs in the United States. In 1702, a group of our students presented a "pastoral colloquy" in Latin for the Royal Governor, the first recorded instance of a theatrical performance in America. The first theatre in America was constructed in Williamsburg in 1716, and in 1736 William & Mary students presented America's first known college production of a play, Addison's Cato.
In 1926, formal organization of the William & Mary Theatre and its academic classes was begun under the guidance of Miss Althea Hunt, a remarkable director-teacher who led the theatre from 1926 to 1961 and established a tradition of excellence. Theatre productions were first presented by the Dramatic Club and Theta Alpha Phi from 1926 to 1929 and then through the William & Mary Players from 1930 to 1937. Theatre classes were offered through the English Department until 1935 when the Department of Fine Arts was formed.
Designer Leslie Cheek, Jr. arrived at that time and was a driving force in making theatre visible on campus as chair of Fine Arts from 1937 to 1939. Howard Scammon '34 also joined the theatre faculty as a designer, followed by Al Haak '52 (Technical Director from 1947 to 1977) and Roger Sherman '55 (Lighting Designer from 1946 to 1958 and 1966 to 1977; Executive Vice-President of the Jamestown Corporation, producer of The Common Glory from 1958 to 1970 ).
Many faculty and students of William & Mary Theatre were active in Paul Green's outdoor drama, The Common Glory, which ran from 1947 to 1976 at the Martha Wren Briggs Amphitheatre. In 1963 the Department of Theatre and Speech was formed.
The next generation of professors in Theatre and Speech included Louis Catron who taught playwriting and direction from 1966 to 2002 and founded Premiere Theatre and Jerry Bledsoe (designer from 1971 to 2004) who founded the Virginia Shakespeare Festival in 1977.
In 1999, the Dance Program joined the department to create Theatre, Speech, & Dance. Under the leadership of the current faculty and staff, the department has continued to expand its course offerings in performance, design, theory, and technical production and to present exciting and challenging theatrical productions. Many alumni have gone on to professional careers including Linda Lavin '59, Scott Glenn '63, Glenn Close '74. Mark Stanley '78, and Bill Lawrence '90.