Department of Theatre Patti & Rusty Rueff School of Visual and Performing Arts

History of Purdue Theatre

Beginning with the Harlequin Club in 1907, theatre has maintained an important presence on the campus of Purdue University for over one hundred years. Developing from a beloved extracurricular activity to a full-fledged academic program, Purdue Theatre has a distinguished history made possible by the diligence and dedication of past students, staff, and faculty.

To learn more about the history of Purdue Theatre, read this detailed article, Centennial Curtain Call, which was written by David Williams and published in Liberal Arts Magazine, Fall 2007.

Purdue Theatre Time Line

1907 The Purdue Minstrel Association changes its name to the Harlequin Club and performs The President of Oolong.

1914 The English Department Players form and produce a series of one-act plays.

1916 Women first allowed on stage. Previously, all female roles had been played by men.

1917 The Little Theatre Players form and eventually absorb the English Department Players (1921).

1927 Little Theatre Players expands to become an official Purdue University activity, rehearsing in the Tower Room of the Purdue Memorial Union.

1928 The Purdue Forensic Council sponsors two plays. Admission is 35 cents.

1929 The Purdue Forensic Council changes its name to Purdue Playshop, which is meant to serve as an extracurricular activity.

1929 Purdue offers its first official theatre course, Play Production and Stagecraft, which remains the only course offering through 1937.

1930 The Harlequin Club and Little Theatre Players merge to form the Harlequin Players.

1932 The Harlequin Players disband.

1937 Purdue Playshop receives performance space in Eliza Fowler Hall.

1939 The Laboratory Group, which would eventually become known as the Experimental Theatre, is created to perform prospective Playshop material before invitation-only audiences.

1952 Eleven theatre courses are available through the Department of Speech.

1956 Playshop is recognized as a curricular activity in the Speech department.

1957 Playshop performances move to Elliott Hall of Music.

1958 Loeb Playhouse opens with a production of George Bernard Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra.

1958 The Experimental Theatre — located in the sub-basement beneath the Loeb Playhouse auditorium — opens with a production of Northern Lights, giving Purdue Theatre two performance venues.

1960 Beginning of Purdue Summer Theatre.

1966 University Theatre becomes a division of the new Department of Creative Arts, which eventually becomes the Department of Visual and Performing Arts.

1967 Summer Theatre becomes Purdue Professional Theatre Company.

1976 MFA program for graduate students developed for Purdue Theatre curriculum.

1994 Purdue Professional Theatre Company becomes inactive.

2001 Construction begins on new Visual and Performing Arts building, the planned home of the four divisions that make up the Department of Visual and Performing Arts: art and design, dance, music, and theatre.

2002 Gift from Carole and Gordon Mallett funds the Carole and Gordon Mallett Theatre, a flexible performance space with a seating capacity ranging from 100 to 150 depending on the stage configuration.

2003 Gift from former Purdue President Arthur G. Hansen in tribute to his wife funds the Nancy T. Hansen Theatre, a 300-seat proscenium theatre.

2004 Department of Visual and Performing Arts named in honor of Patti and Rusty Rueff.

2004 Visual and Performing Arts building opens as construction continues.

2005 Yue-Kong Pao Hall of Visual and Performing Arts is officially dedicated in honor of a Chinese business leader whose two daughters graduated from Purdue University.

2005 Last of the Experimental Theatre’s more than 245 productions is Jose Rivera’s Marisol.

2006 First production in the Nancy T. Hansen Theatre is Purdue alumnus George Ade’s The College Widow. First production in the Carole and Gordon Mallett Theatre is Jacquelyn Reingold’s A Story About a Girl.

2009 The Patti and Rusty Rueff Department of Visual and Performing Arts becomes a school, and the Division of Theatre becomes a Department.

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