Prior to 1977 the Skidmore
Department of theater was housed in the Regent Street Theater, one
of the original buildings of the College. This structure is now an
antique center located on Regent Street between Spring Street and
Union Avenue. The move from this structure was necessitated by a need
to improve the facilities due to growth in the department and because
of a redefinition of our educational goals. Before the late seventies,
very few theater students entered graduate programs or the theater
profession. By 1979 the program began to develop as a serious training
program for theater artists.
In 1975 discussions had begun for the design of a new theater facility for the new campus. However, at the time this was a relatively low priority for the college. In 1977 when the Field House was still in the planning stage the idea for a temporary home for the department arose. With the support of the college administration and architects, faculty members Peter Gould and Lary Opitz designed a theater facility to fit within the added bay on the field house. The 120' x 60' x 25' space would house a thrust theater with extensive catwalk structure, scenic shop, costume shop, design studio, rehearsal room, dressing room and limited storage. This theater has been refitted to become thence Theater.
During the year of construction the college made the Skidmore Chapel available to the theater Department. There we produced a number of memorable productions which took full advantage of the many scenic opportunities afforded by this exciting space. The theater offices were housed in a construction trailer near the Field House and a large studio was rented downtown to serve as rehearsal studio, classroom, and workshop space.
Construction began during the summer of 1975. The entire project was built by the two faculty members assisted by five students. In November of 1976 the Field House theater opened with a production of Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party. The theater offices were still housed in the construction trailer and the chapel was still used for limited workshops. Early in the eighties the department was given the full use of the Lodge by the tennis courts. This was converted into office space and a small workshop production and training space. The theater faculty grew in proportion to our growing number of theater majors. A more serious approach to the nature of training was developed and many new programs evolved. A number of exciting guest artists became involved in the program during the academic year and a number of summers. Some of these artists included members of Capital Repertory Company, The Reality Theater of Boston, and Theater Research Associates. Quite a few professional directors, designers and actors were invited to teach and to participate in productions. For the first time a great many theater students were entering some of the best graduate programs and acting studios in the country or were entering the profession directly.
Work began in earnest on designs for a permanent theater facility for the campus during the early eighties. The building program now reflected a strong philosophy of theater training. This was to be a theater training facility rather than just a showplace. Every possible space in the building was conceived of as a potential training and performance space. Through the help of the Bernhard family and other generous benefactors, our dream became a reality in 1987. In the spring of that year the partially completed Janet Kinghorn Bernhard Theater opened with a production of Spoon River Anthology in the Studio Theater. In the fall of the same year the Thrust Theater opened with Moss Hart's Light Up the Sky.
In the late eighties the idea of the Seminar Production evolved. This is the core of the current program. It is the principle means by which connections are made among productions, academic study, studio work, and the campus community. Coupled with our smaller studio productions and more experimental workshop productions, students and faculty find themselves immersed in production work throughout the year.
Over the years we have developed strong relationships with a number of programs. Many students spend a portion of their junior year studying at NTI at the O'Neill Center in Connecticut or at the British American Drama Academy in London. A number of theater students are always actively involved in the Williamstown Theater Festival, The Lake George Opera, The Saratoga Shakespeare Company, and the Adirondack Theater Festival during the summer. We have created student internships at a number of regional theaters including the Arena and the Guthrie and the Capital District's own Capital Rep. Skidmore hosted a number of summer developmental workshops for the Jujamcyn theater organization. A number of their Broadway productions including The Secret Garden and I Hate Hamlet began here.
In 1992 we began our relationship with the Saratoga International theater Institute. We have hosted SITI productions as well as intensive training workshops taught by directors Tadashi Suzuki and Anne Bogart. Will Bond, a founding member of SITI, is currently an Artist-in Residence at Skidmore in the Theater Department. We have a strong relationship with Shakespeare & Co. in Lenox, Massachusetts. Many of our students study there and Kate Kelly Bouchard, another Artist-in-Residence is a faculty member there.
1996 marked the first year of the Skidmore College Shakespeare Programme. Every fall Skidmore students join theatre and English majors from the finest American colleges and universities for this innovative study abroad program combining theoretical and studio experiences in London. We also send many students to study at The Moscow Art Theatre, Second City, BADA's London Theatre Program, and a number of other programs. Our students spend their summer working in theater and studying theater at places such The Michael Howard Studio, The Adirondack Theatre Festival, Shakespeare and Co., The Berkshire Theatre Company, and The Saratoga Shakespeare Company