Albert and Shirley Small Speial Collections Library
actors graphicCreating America's Theatre
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Introduction to the Exhibit
Early American Theatre
A Novel Idea
Musicals
Setting the Modern Stage
A Voice of Their Own
Picks and Pans
Playbills and Programs
Regional Theatre in Virginia

Regional Theatre in Virginia

University of Virginia Drama

When the University of Virginia opened its doors in 1825, the curriculum for the schools of Ancient Languages and of Moral Philosophy included the study of classical dramatic literature, rhetoric, and belles-lettres. As the nineteenth century progressed, various literary societies developed within the student body. Some of these organizations provided dramatic presentations, but little is noted of traditional theatre being performed by University students. However, students did contribute to the audiences of the local Charlottesville theatres and public halls.


The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw a rise in student musical and dramatic clubs, including the Arcadians, Punch and Julep, and perhaps the most successful, The Virginia Players. Organized in 1924, The Virginia Players included not only students but also other members of the University community. Four years after its inception, the group came under the sponsorship of the newly created Division of Dramatic Art in the McIntire School of Fine Arts and became the official theatrical production company of the University. In 1945, the Division of Dramatic Art combined with the School of Speech to form the Department of Speech and Drama, which lasted until 1973, when the present Department of Drama was created.


Cabell Hall and later Minor Hall provided early theatre settings until the construction of the current Drama building in 1973. This space includes two theatres, which serve as venues for numerous department productions during the academic year. In addition, the building houses the Heritage Repertory Theatre over the summer months. The University of Virginia and Charlottesville community continues to be enriched, challenged, and educated by the quality theatrical presentations offered on grounds, while the nation’s theatrical community benefits from the students who pursue careers in the performing arts at the University and beyond.

 

University Minstrel Troupe. Program. [Charlottesville: n.p., 1886].
 

 

This student acting troupe performed at the University and also traveled to nearby towns to put on shows.

 

Photograph of UVA student drama presentation, by J. T. Wampler. Charlottesville, [1890s].
From the Papers of Archer Anderson.

 

Autograph letter, signed, from Walter Taylor to his father. 19 May 1907.
From the Papers of John Cowdery Taylor and Harry Baylor Taylor.

 

The University of Virginia student writes to his father, describing a traveling theatre company’s outdoor performance of Shakespeare’s plays in the open space between the Rotunda and the Chapel:


Friday afternoon and night the University community had a rare treat. Ben Greet & his Woodland Players presented the Comedy of Errors and Mid-Summers Night’s Dream the first in the afternoon & the latter at night in the open space between the Rotunda & the chapel. The background or rather the three sides of the stage were made of evergreens filling in the places between the trees already there—I thought this the proper time & so blew myself to the extent of a general admission ticket to each performance. And I never spent money better in my life I don’t believe taking all in all I ever saw anything in the line of stage performances that came anywhere near to the Midsummer Night’s Dream.

 

The Arcadians, University of Virginia Dramatic Club, Presents “The King of Kong.” Program. [Charlottesville: n.p., 1900s].
 

 

Formed in 1904, the Arcadians, an early student dramatic club, staged primarily light comedies and musicals. “The King of Kong,” written by two alumni, was the fourth opera performed by the group.

 

Production photograph of the Virginia Players’ staging of Rollo’s Wild Oat. [Charlottesville, 1928].
 

 

Rollo’s Wild Oat was the last Virginia Players’ production to feature an all-male cast.

 

The Virginia Players, in association with the Raven Society, Present for the First Time “Politian” by Edgar Allan Poe. Program. [Charlottesville, 1933].
 

 

Production photograph of the Virginia Players’ staging of Edgar Allan Poe’s Politian. [Charlottesville, Cabell Hall, 1933].
 

 

The Virginia Players, in association with the Raven Society, presented the world premiere of Poe’s only play, Politian. Poe’s tragedy drew loosely on the famous Beauchamp-Sharp murder in Kentucky in 1825. The photograph shows Roy Land, as Jacinta, and Thomas Gresham, as Ugo.

 

Production photograph of the Virginia Players’ staging of The Rainmaker. [Charlottesville], Minor Hall Theatre, [1950s].
 

 

The Virginia Players performed in a theatre space in Minor Hall.

 

Production photograph of the Rotunda Stagers’ The Lady’s Not for Burning. [Charlottesville, the Rotunda, 1952].
 

 

 

The Rotunda Stagers Present Christopher Fry’s “The Lady’s Not for Burning.” Program. [Charlottesville: n.p., 1952].
 

 

The Rotunda Stagers was a splinter group of The Virginia Players in the 1950s. The group wanted to perform and direct more plays than they had been allowed to do with the Players. They chose the dome room of the Rotunda as their performance space.

 

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