Trinity Theater
Trinity gives students a stage for drama, dialogue
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
2006 Trinity production of Holiday

All the world’s a stage. But at Trinity, the stage becomes a powerful agent of positive change in the world. Since the arrival of drama as an academic mainstay in University’s curriculum, Trinity has hosted and assembled productions that spark controversial but cutting-edge conversations.

Dramatic Origins

During the 1960s, Trinity added theater as one of three graduate degree programs. 

President James Laurie recruited dramatist Paul Baker ’32 to join the Trinity faculty in 1963, promising him a new theater with three stages, a set shop, dressing rooms, and production tion offices. To accomplish this, Laurie attracted the interest of Vernon and Ruth Taylor, mining millionaires who had recently funded a music building and fine arts center at Trinity. Reportedly, they had planned to give $600,000 to the project, but were considering withdrawing their offer. Architect O’Neil Ford, in his usual casual manner, showed up thirty minutes late for his first meeting with the couple and launched into an animated presentation. In describing the charms of the theater, he claimed it would be one of the most prestigious buildings on the campus. By the time Ford finished, he had convinced the Taylors to pledge $1.5 million to the project.

Baker, center, at work with aspiring dramatists.

With Baker as chair, Trinity's speech and drama department underwent a sudden transformation. Baker was a nationally acclaimed dramatist and alumnus of Trinity’s Waxahachie Campus, and had served as head of Baylor University's drama department since 1939. Baker and his 12-member drama staff had resigned en masse from Baylor University in the spring of 1963 after an extended controversy over the use of profanity in Eugene O'Neill's autobiographical Long Day's Journey into Night. Baylor's president forced the production to close in mid-run by banning plays that contained "vulgar, profane or blasphemous language" and "ridiculed the Christian religion." 

Baylor’s loss was Trinity’s gain, as Baker brought with him to Trinity five staff members (Eugene McKinney, Dugald MacArthur, Jearnine Wagner, Robert Flynn, and Mary Sue Fridge) whose professional talents generated an interest in performing arts that was unprecedented in Trinity's history.

Under this faculty, Trinity presented an annual season of plays that included classics, modern drama, musicals, and a variety of experimental productions. Under the direction of Baker, who—bless him—commuted between San Antonio and Dallas, the two-year master's of arts degree offered a program that integrated historical, theoretical, and social aspects of theater with the technical aspects of dramatic creation and production.

Trinity University Players prepare a production

Staging Growth

When Baker, architect of Trinity's drama program, retired in 1977, the drama department entered a period of restructuring that lasted more than a decade. 

Under Baker, the department was weighted toward a professional production-oriented theater program closely affiliated with the Dallas Theater Center. The university subsequently ended its relationship with the Dallas Theater Center, dropped the master's degree in fine arts from its graduate curriculum, and developed an undergraduate program that featured speech, drama, and forensics components. 

With Calgaard's support, the department also revived Trinity's participation in local, regional, and national debate competitions.

Made possible by a contribution of $3.2 million from Trinity benefactors Jane and Arthur Stieren, Theater One in the Ruth Taylor complex underwent extensive renovation during this period, including a new sound and light system, an orchestra pit, and an expanded seating capacity of 500. Dedicated and renamed the Jane and Arthur Stieren Theater in April 1999, the facility serves as a site for both drama offerings and other public gatherings.

Students rehearse in Attic Theatre

Flipping The Script

During the 21st century, theater at Trinity has remained true to its roots: bold, bubble-bursting, and innovative. Today, Trinity students engage in the timeless tradition of theatre as a communal event—a creative laboratory, a celebration of culture, and a forum to examine modern issues. 

Open to all students, majors and non-majors alike, Trinity Theatre’s productions present a range of creative opportunities. Students audition for, build, and crew all productions. A typical Trinity mainstage season offers traditional plays and musical theatre, and also experimental works and devised performances. In addition, Trinity Theatre hosts an annual artist-in-residence: a professional director, actor, designer, or company to collaborate with students and faculty on a mainstage production and teach courses in their fields of expertise.

Professor Roberto Prestigiacomo at work in 2018

Faculty have also blended the power of the stage with cutting edge-research through a technique called forum theater, a story-telling method where the audience can interact with and change the plot. 

In 2018, professors Roberto Prestigiacomo and Robert Huesca launched a production entitled “End Stigma; End HIV/AIDS”, to dispel stigma surrounding the HIV virus. And rather than staying within the comfy confines of the Attic or Ruth Taylor Theaters to put on their play, the team performed in treatment clinics, shelters, and similar spaces before crowds full of HIV-positive people throughout San Antonio. “That leads to some unbelievable moments,” Huesca says.

The Magik Theatre, founded by an alumnus, provides an accessible stage for area youth.

Theater alumni are also making a positive impact on the community. The Magik Theater, founded in 1994 by Richard Rosen ’69, aims to make theater education accessible for all. 

Situated in downtown San Antonio between Hemisfair and La Villita, the Magik Theater nurtures a love and understanding of theater and literature by providing extraordinary, affordable, professional theater and education experiences.  In addition to enrolling local youths in theater classes, the organization also sends teaching artists out to local schools.

LeeRoy Tiger is Trinity's lovable mascot, spreading #TigerPride wherever he goes.

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