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Department Origins

SCU boasts one of the oldest and most continually well-resourced departments of theatre arts, and plays such as Shakespeare’s classics and the Santa Clara Passion Play have been performed on campus since 1855. Beginning as the Department of Speech and Drama in the late 1950s, the first majors in Theatre Arts graduated in 1967. To date, over 600 students have graduated from our program.

The space in College Hall where theatrical activities took place (affectionately known as “The Ship”), built in 1871, was deemed unsafe in 1962 and productions were moved to the aptly-named “Lifeboat Theatre” — a temporary warehouse space that lasted 13 seasons. The Lifeboat was also the original home of the summer California Shakespeare Festival, co-founded by SCU Professor Roger Gross.

The SCU Board of Fellows initiated the fundraising effort to build a new theatre shortly after the closure. A founding Fellow, Hollywood actor Fess Parker conceived the annual Golden Circle Theatre Party which eventually raised half a million dollars towards the theatre’s construction. Although not an alum, in consideration of his significant contribution to the endeavor, the Studio Theatre is dedicated to him.

The Mayer Foundation, whose president was then Board of Trustees Chair Benjamin Swig, donated the largest gift to the campaign and the Louis B. Mayer Theatre was opened by noted actress Helen Hayes on November 8, 1975.

The Music and Dance Facility was built next to the Mayer Theatre and opened in 1998. To celebrate its opening year, renowned choreographer and director Bill T. Jones was in residence for a week during Spring quarter.