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From 1902 to present, Theatre has been an important and lively part of the UND tradition.
The Department of Theatre Arts at the University of North Dakota has a long and fantastic history. The earliest documented production was All For A Man, produced in 1902 as the class play for the season. Theatre existed much within the classroom structure, until 1910, when The Sock and Buskin Society was formed as the first performance producing organization on the UND campus. Their first public performance was Twelfth Night, performed outside near present-day Merrifield Hall. The Sock and Buskin Society not only performed locally, but also around the area in communities where UND alumna were located. These performances were known as the
"Barnstorming Tours." In 1914, the Bankside Theatre (located on the greenspace west of present-day Smith Hall) was dedicated, and claimed to be the "first out-of-doors theatre performed on the banks of a river."
In 1917, a new stage was dedicated in Woodworth Hall and the Sock & Buskin Society was renamed "The Dakota Playmakers." In 1927 the Playmakers were granted a charter with the National Collegiate Players, a national theatre fraternal organization. When fire consumed Woodworth Hall in 1949, the Playmakers became a nomadic group, performing in various "green" and "borrowed" spaces in the community. Even before the fire there had been some thought toward a performance space that was dedicated solely toward theatre performance. Almost immediately after the Woodworth fire discussion began for a new theatre.
Dedication of Burtness Theatre was held on Sunday April 28, 1963 and the inaugural production of Archibald McLeash's JB was held on April 30, 1963. The addition of a permanent home for the Playmakers marked the slow blending of the group into the "University Theatre". In the earliest days of the Sock and Buskin Society and later the Dakota Playmakers the organization received top billing. By the late 1950's the billing had adjusted to "The UND Speech Department presents the Dakota Playmakers", though the Playmakers title still received the dominant font size and style. By the mid- 1960's that had changed to the point that the Dakota Playmakers title no longer appeared on the front cover. In late 1968, with minimal student interest, it was decided to drop the name Dakota Playmakers all together. A little more than 60 years after eleven theatre enthusiasts formed the Sock and Buskin Society Theatre would split from the Speech Department to form the Department of Theatre Arts in 1972. Currently, Theatre is housed as a department in the College of Arts and Sciences, and has grown by a substantial margin.
In the 1914 Book of The Pageant of the North-West William Whitford summed up the intent of the Sock and Buskin Society- "The Sock and Buskin Society is thus, in a sense, a laboratory of dramatic literature. Through the enacting of representative plays, by critical analyses, and reviews, and by constructive practice in play making, the society is helping to prepare the way for a New American Drama." (William Whitford, The Sock and Buskin Society.)
For nearly one hundred years these have been the goals of Theatre at the University of North Dakota.
- From the Theatre History at the University of North Dakota, by Loren Liepold