The birth of Drama in British Universities started here at the University College of the South West - the first course at a British University to study Drama, consisting of a full academic year of evening sessions. See announcement in Drama journal, 1927 on the right.
A full-time Drama course arrived at Exeter in 1968 within the Department of English, as it was then. Professor Moelwyn Merchant had a dream about introducing the creative arts into the English Department. Drama and English was the first to be set up, by John Rudlin. The first intake was in October, and students had three course choices: Drama and English, Drama and French and Drama and German. In 1969, John was joined by Les Read and Dorinda Hulton. Originally based in Queen's Building. The space that is now LT1, 2 and 3 (the Margaret Rooms) was the practical space, with offices and workshops on the floor below. Use was also made of the secondary activities gym in the Sports Hall. It is revealing that the spaces that used to be Drama workshops are now a bike shed and an art gallery.
The English Department had excellent links with the Northcott Theatre and technical support provided by the theatre was invaluable in the early years. In 1971, Tony Addicott transferred from the Maintenance Division to join Drama, after wiring Washington Singer as a performance space. Always willing to help and offer advice, Tony's support was essential in keeping the complex wheels of theatre in motion, until he decided to take a well-earned early retirement in 1998.
John Rudlin forms Medium Fair (a touring theatre company) with graduates of that year.
Following Professor Moelwyn Merchant's retirement, the University opts to replace him with a Professor of Drama. Peter Thomson is appointed.
Nick Sales joins as Lecturer in January, and is more-or-less immediately co-opted into Medium Fair as well.
The Department of English becomes the School of English, and Drama becomes a separate section within the School.
Single Honours in Drama starts with a cohort of 10 students.
Glendyr Sacks joins as a Lecturer.
The University Grants Committee, noting the decline in applications for Anglo-Saxon, invites 13 universities to "discontinue Drama". Exeter is one of them. With notable vocal support from other departments, Drama conducts a successful fight against closure. Oddly, the position of Drama is strengthened by the furore, and the University backs the proposal that Drama should become a separate Department in the fullness of time.
Having taken advantage of the University's relocation plans, Drama is installed on a separate site at Thornlea, but is now threatened with the loss of the Washington Singer, which Psychology wants to partition. (The beautiful sprung floor is torn up and scrapped...) The University now plans to confine Drama to the former Roborough Reading Room, which is to be minimally refurbished. Determined to hold on to Thornlea as well, Drama objects - and the discovery of blue asbestos in the Roborough's roof helps us to win this battle, too. The Roborough now replaces Washington Singer as the main practical space. Its transformation is signalled by a production of As You Like It in 1986. Click here for a photo of the Roborough prior to conversion.
Anthony Richards graduates and begins his association with the Department as Technical Tutor (to be briefly interrupted by a year in the USA, 1987-8).
Drama at Swansea is discontinued, and Chris McCullough joins the Exeter Department instead.
A special Christmas present this year in the form of the inestimable Dawn Canham, who arrives to work in the costume room (basement of Rannoch, barely enough room for a pantomime cow costume). Les Read's production of To Damascus is the first production in the Department where students make all of the costumes. Over the years Dawn transforms the stock of costumes from one rail into the massive stock we have today.
The University now formally acknowledges the separate existence of a Department of Drama, and John Rudlin is elected its first head.
The new Department celebrates 21 years of existence by holding a reunion "Beano" (organised by John Rudlin and Dorinda Hulton).
Nick Sales leaves to set up a centre in West Wales, and the University denies us a replacement.
Studies in Theatre Production (STP), edited in the Department, is first published as the Journal of the Standing Committee of Drama Departments (SCUDD), of which Peter Thomson and Christopher McCullough are officers.
Jon Primrose joins the Department as Technical Co-ordinator.
To mark Glendyr Sacks' decision to leave university teaching, the students organise a sunrise event at Canonteign Falls.
The Department is awarded a 5 in the Research Assessment Exercise, and the gods of the University look with new favour on us. Olga Taxidou is appointed as Lecturer.
After a decade as Department secretary, the jovial Barbara Goody (along with her dog Sparky) leaves, and is replaced by Ann Levett.
Lesley Wade is appointed as Lecturer.
John Rudlin leaves England to set up studios in France. Les Read's term of office as Head of Department (1992-7) keeps the boat steady.
Lindsay Buchanan replaces Ann Levett as Departmental Secretary.
January: Jane Milling is appointed as Lecturer - stolen from the University of Sheffield.
October: Graham Ley is appointed a Lecturer as Olga Taxidou goes to Edinburgh.
April: The Drama Department website is born, and has been steadily evolving ever since.
Chris McCullough takes over as Head of Drama.
Big changes. Drama becomes the larger partner in a new School of Drama and Music (SODAM!). Chris McCullough is elected Head of School.
The whole Thornlea site (including the splendid White House) becomes Drama's (three additional smaller studios - together with useful alterations to the Annexe - make us possibly the best-resourced of all the Drama Departments in the country).
Dee Heddon is appointed a Lecturer in Drama, Stephen Hodge is regraded to be a Lecturer in Drama and the Drama staff from St. Luke's (Steve Cockett, John Somers and Bill Stanton) join us. With Dawn Canham in the Wardrobe Department, we now have a teaching complement of 14 (including the inestimably valuable James MacDonald).
September: Chris Mearing joins as Trainee Technical Assistant, under the Modern Apprentice scheme.
Phillip Zarrilli joins us as the new Professor of Drama. Peter Thomson is now Emeritus Professor.
July: Following a sterling temporary effort by Amy Chadwick, Gayatri Simons from the School of Business and Economics takes on the role of School Secretary from Lindsay Buchanan.
May: Stephen Hodge becomes a permanent full-time member of staff in the Department.
September: Peter Thomson retires (although he's still around as Emeritus Professor).
After years of sterling service to practical theatre-making in the Department, Dawn Canham begins her well-deserved retirement, hangs up her wardrobe hat and starts taking a beginner's computer literacy course.
Anthea Nakorn joins us as Wardrobe Assistant.
July: Christopher McCullough becomes Professor of Drama.
August: Chris Mearing completes his three year training and becomes a full technician in the Department.
We're renamed to become the School of Performance Arts (SPA)
December: Nela Kapelan joins us as our first School Administrator
The Roborough Studio is closed between July and December for a major refit. Removable partition walls (that were on the original plans in 1984!) are finally fitted, enabling three groups to work in the space at the same time with more than a black curtain dividing them. Control room, technical and storage spaces are also upgraded and expanded, along with new lighting bars. The asbestos ceiling in Roborough (that saved Thornlea in 1985) is also finally removed.
November: Tom Owen joins us as a full-time Technician
Dr Rebecca Loukes joins us as a full-time lecturer.
May 2004 - September 2005 - Thornlea becomes a building site as a new £3 million extension goes up across the front of Thornlea Annexe.
Professor Nick Kaye, Professor Mick Mangan, Dr Gabriella Giannachi, Dr Michael Balfour and Dr Jerri Daboo join us as full-time staff.
Steve Cockett retires.
Building work continues at Thornlea. Dr Jessica Berson, Dr Birgit Haas, Dr Bella Merlin and Dr David Roesner join us as full-time staff. John Somers retires.
January - the new building at Thornlea opens. It's a great relief to have the existing three studios in Thornlea Annexe back, and they're now part of a huge development named The Alexander Building, after the former University Chancellor Lord Alexander.
August - We become part of the School of Arts, Languages and Literatures.
July: The Alexander Building is officially opened by Lady Alexander, with the Chancellor, Vice Chancellor and various luminaries in attendance. Dr Michael Balfour leaves the department.
Andrew Yarwood joins the department as technical assistant. Dr Bella Merlin leaves the department.
The 40th Anniversary of the Drama Department at Exeter is marked by a 36 hour durational performance called Marathon '08. This unique event was part athletic contest, part endurance feat, part rehearsed performance, part dance, part fund-raiser, and part party.
A new University-wide term structure causes some initial worries for Drama staff and students, but the problems are overcome by a rush of student-led enthusiasm for a term-long festival of Drama. The T3 (for third term) Festival has set a precendent for the future, with over 40 individual performances, most of them initiated by students from across the department.
August - The College of Humanities is born, consisting of the School of Arts, Languages and Literatures (SALL) and some of the departments from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences (HUSS). A shift of some administrative responsibilities to the College offices in Queens Building enables local admin staff to focus on the day to day running of the office.