Facts and History

The department of theatre and dance had its genesis in the study of speech, rhetoric and debate, all popular subjects at Gustavus at the turn of the last century. For many years, the primary instructors in the then Speech Department were the legendary couple, Evan and Evelyn Anderson. Upon the arrival of Robert Gardner in the fall of 1971 to join “Mrs. A.”, the Speech and Theatre Department consisted of two faculty members teaching in speech and two faculty members in theatre. A third faculty member, Kelly W. Forde, joined Anderson and Gardner in 1972 as faculty designer/technical director. The ensuing years saw the continued expansion of the department and its subsequent separation from the Speech Department in the late 1970’s. Formal dance classes were added to the curriculum in the mid-1970’s with the first fulltime dance instructor joining the department in 1979. Dance was added to the formal title of the department in the early 1990’s to recognize the department’s commitment to dance.

The theatre and dance department has been housed in several temporary locations on campus. Anderson Theatre, our current venue, opened in the fall of 1971 and the “Little Theatre”, located behind the current Jackson Campus Center, was torn down in the late 1970’s. The building has undergone few changes with exception of the removal of the large panels which closed-off the proscenium arch in Anderson and the addition of the Kresge Studio in the early 1980’s with funds from the Kresge Foundation.

Of our current faculty, Michele Rusinko has the longest history with the department, taking over the Dance program in 1984 and Terena Wilkens became Technical Director in 1994. Performance for social justice was an important focus for Vanita Vactor, who came to the department as a visiting fellow and director from 1994 to 1997. In 1997, director Amy Seham joined the faculty, specializing in improvisation, directing, and theatre for social justice. In the last few years, a new wave of faculty and staff has joined the program, including costumer, Larissa McConnell, director/historian Henry MacCarthy, designer Micah Maatman, dance professor Melissa Rolnick, and Administrative Assistant Kristi Borowy.

Theatre and Dance facilities escaped major damage by the 1998 tornado, although almost all of the electrical and sound equipment needed to be replaced.  In 2007 thanks in part to our wonderful alumni and a grant from the Tozer Foundation, Anderson Theatre received a state-of-the-art lighting system complete with a new computer lighting console and double the number of dimmers. 

While the building has stayed fairly consistent, the program has grown significantly.  Over the last few years, the department has created a Dance major, developed a Theatre for Social Justice program, and revamped the whole curriculum to best serve today’s students. Exciting new courses take advantage of the expertise of new faculty.