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History of the School

The School of Dramatic Art and University Players are proud of their heritage and contributions to the public and to the University.

We are far more, however, than an organization that produces plays. We are a serious and dedicated training ground for young theatre artists; we provide a venue where faculty, staff and guest artists find an opportunity for creative expression. We are an organization which consistently strives to showcase not only professional calibre content but also professional conduct. In other words, we put equal emphasis on both the product and the process.

In 1952 a Drama Club was formed as an extra-curricular activity of the English Department. The Drama Club, first known as the Assumption College Players staged one major production a year and presented an evening of one-act plays. Back then performances were held in the old St. Denis Hall and in the Army Huts provided on campus. Dr. C. P. Crowley, head of the English Department, directed the Players and managed to enter their productions in drama festivals in order to establish a reputation locally and in the United States. During this time, Dr. Crowley took the Assumption College Players and their performance of The Glass Menagerie to the National Educational Theatre in Kansas City, Missouri, where guest performances were by invitation only, and limited to four theatre groups. In 1958 Daniel P. Kelly came to what was then Assumption University to direct Assumption Players productions and teach speech courses offered by the English Department. The University turned over two surplus army barracks (known as “the Huts”) to the Players, one for set and costume construction, the other a theatre. The theatre seated 160 and the makeshift stage measured just 8’ by 13’. Daniel P. Kelly directed Kind Lady that first year.

When Daniel P. Kelly formed a drama section, the first course offering was Play Direction, which provided an introduction to directing and acting. Student-directed productions were presented in addition to the regular season.

In 1964, when “the Huts” were removed to make way for construction of a men’s residence, Windsor’s Cleary Auditorium became home to the Players. The first play produced at the Cleary was Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

The Department of Drama was established in 1967 with four faculty members and three degree programs. Assumption Players moved to a new home on the main campus, Essex Hall. This theatre sat 334, had a costume room, dressing rooms, and a green room. The proscenium stage measured 37’ by 26’, flanked by 12-foot wings. The first production in Essex Hall theatre was Thieves Carnival, in December 1966, directed by Daniel P. Kelly.

Assumption Players became University Players two years later when the School of Dramatic Art was established. With Daniel P. Kelly as director, the school began a professional training program for actors; auditions were held for the now Bachelor of Fine Arts program; 22 of the 80 hopefuls were accepted and began their training. At the time, the school was housed in the Assumption University administration building, which housed two lofts for practical classes as well the faculty offices. To make room for the expanding student body and programs, the School of Dramatic Art moved into its own building, a renovated grocery store, Loblaws, in 1972. The facility provided a movement studio, experimental theatre, a room specially designed for developmental drama classrooms, scenic design shops, faculty offices and a student lounge. The School of Dramatic Art was the first of its kind in Ontario within the framework of a university. Alumni distinguished themselves in the School’s unique Music Theatre Program (1979-2004) and continue to make their mark in Canadian theatre.

The School of Dramatic Art packed its bags a fourth time in 2004 with a move to the Jackman Dramatic Art Centre, which has marked a new era for SODA students, faculty, and staff in their creative endeavours.