The evolution of the School of Film, Dance and Theatre is a story of deep history and diversity of effort. Most recently, the School took on its combined form when the School of Theatre and Film and the School of Dance united to form this new body, which the Arizona Board of Regents approved in April 2013 after a unanimous vote by both faculties on the merits of unification. In this new configuration, the Film, Dance and Theatre programs can offer the broadest exposure to all the disciplines of the stage and screen in one innovative, wildly-productive central hub. In this new School, students can study an amazing array of skills and knowledges: acting, directing, choreography, cinematography, movement, design, urban performance, screenwriting, dramaturgy, theatre education, arts entrepreneurship, interdisciplinary digital media and more.
How did we get here?
Spurred by student demand, the Film and Media Production program was established in 2005 after ABOR approved the reorganization of the Department of Theatre following the addition of the BA in Film degree - a degree shared with the Film and Media Studies area in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The BA in Film has three concentrations: Film and Media Production, Filmmaking Practices, and Film and Media Studies. The years since 2005 have been marked by explosive growth in students, faculty, and opportunities.
Theatre has been present on the ASU Tempe campus since 1920 when it was a component of the liberal arts program. In 1957, the Department of Speech and Drama was formed in what was then called the College of Arts and Science. When the College of Fine Arts, now the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, was founded in 1964, the Department of Speech and Drama moved to the new college as one of three units.
In 1977, the department became the Department of Theatre to reflect its focus on performance, production and theatre education. Classes in film production and film studies have been offered since 1980. In 1990, the PhD in Theatre with a concentration in Theatre for Youth was approved to complement an existing MFA emphasis in that area. The PhD concentration in Theatre and Performance of the Americas was added in 2005.
The history of Arizona State University School of Dance goes back 77 years to classes in "interpretive dance," which were first offered by the Department of Physical Education in 1931.
The first director of the program, in 1937, was Dorothy Gillanders, a modern dancer who worked with Martha Graham and others, whose mission was to bring modern dance to the university community.
In 1954, Margaret Gisolo directed the program and began the expansion and growth of both curriculum and faculty. Two undergraduate degrees were initiated and a student dance company was formed. Margaret Gisolo left the position of chair after 23 years of service, and in 1977 Beth Lessard was appointed the new chair.
During Beth Lessard's tenure the Dance program moved out of the jurisdiction of Physical Education and into the Herberger College of the Arts, renowned choreographer and dance artist Daniel Nagrin joined the faculty, and a Master of the Arts degree was initiated. The dance program enjoyed much national recognition for its esteemed faculty, celebrated choreography, innovative programs and guest artist residencies.
Beth Lessard left the position of chair in 1993, and Pam Matt was appointed as acting-chair until 1996 when a new chair, Claudia Murphey, was brought from George Mason University to further establish the department’s reputation for excellence in education, production and technology.
From January to July, 2003, Dr. Naomi Jackson served as interim chair. Dr. Bonnie Eckard, former chair of the then Department of Theatre, was interim chair during the 2004-2005 academic year. Dr. Pegge Vissicaro, while serving as interim chair during the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 seasons, led the department in creating a strategic plan that included several, significant curriculum changes. In 2006, Herberger College Dance was featured in a cover story entitled “Innovation in the Desert” in Dance Teacher Magazine. From August 2007-2012, Simon Dove served as chair and then director of the School of Dance.