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3 UCSD theatre productionsUCSD Theatre + Dance in the 1970s, 1990s and 2010s. 

A Brief History of the Department

In the 1960s, famed director Michael Langham (former head of the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis) agreed to chair what would be a Theatre department at UCSD. At that time, a private group – the Theater and Arts Foundation – was commissioned to raise money for building a theater near the campus where Langham could launch a repertory theatre, the definitive incentive for him to settle in La Jolla. English actor and director Eric Christmas was then brought on to assist Langham for when everything was arranged. However, the money and subsequently Langham eventually fell through. Christmas stayed on, though, teaching introductory theatre courses and directing locally at the Old Globe.

In 1973, UCSD finally decided to offer a major in Drama – hitherto the drama department had offered mainly introductory courses – and to pay for the construction of a theatre. Arthur Wagner was brought in in 1974 to chair the new department. Christmas would teach Acting, Floyd Gaffney was brought in to teach Dance, Stage Movement and Black Theatre, Dan Dryden would teach Technical Theatre and Design, Michael Addison taught Directing, Wagner taught Acting, Theatre History and Criticism, and Victoria Spencer served as the department's first MSO. At first a BA in Drama was offered through the school's liberal arts curriculum.

A few years later, with the help of Michael Addison (who wrote the petition to the university) the graduate program was set up, offering MFAs and residencies for most of our students with La Jolla Playhouse. The department’s name changed to Theatre and Dance in 1995 with the addition of the undergraduate dance studies formerly based in Physical Education led by Margaret Marshall. The evolving program offers undergraduates a Dance Major and Minor, and a Dance MFA.


In 1998, UCSD Department of Theatre & Dance and UCI Department of Drama joined forces in offering a ground-breaking joint PhD in theatre history/dramatic literature that combines the faculty and resources of both campuses. Theodore and Adele Shank, with faculty and graduate students launched in 1992 the performance arts journal TheatreForum celebrating the work and published the plays of innovative theatre artists globally. TheatreForum went into hibernation in 2019 after 27 years of robust journalism. 

In 2019, La Jolla Playhouse began to commission the MFA graduating playwrights. Ken and Ginger Baldwin’s generous philanthropy established in 1999 the Baldwin New Play Festival which showcased the MFA playwrights’ work to ten professional guests nationally. The Festival – a top California venue of emerging stage talent - was renamed the Wagner Festival in 2013 when Arthur and Molli Wagner extended the Baldwin family gift for many more decades.

Today, the legacy of all those who helped make the Department of Theatre & Dance what it is today lives on in the degrees offered, the facilities of Theatre District, and the various productions on stage each season. For many decades, UCSD has remained in the top rank of elite graduate theatre programs in the nation.