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History of William Carey University Theatre

The WCU entity currently know as the Department of Theatre and Communication was established by Kate Downs P’Pool in 1915. Little is known of the history of the department after her time, although plays were staged and the names of some faculty are recorded. It can probably be assumed that some limitations in casting were created by an all-female student body.

It was in the decade of the 60’s that the college began a strong theatre emphasis with the appointment of O. L. Quave. In 1960 the annual tour of a theatre production was begun. This continued for thirteen years until the “energy crisis” of 1973 made it financially difficult to take a show on the road.

In the beginning, the touring group traveled primarily on weekends to engagements in Mississippi and other southern states. Gradually the effort grew until the group was on the road, not only on weekends, but also during spring break and the entire month of June. The players went from Texas to Illinois to upstate New York to Miami, and points between. Memorable engagements, among many, were at the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, New York; an international student conference in Texas; a military base in Illinois; and the federal penitentiary in Atlanta.

What seemed like a major disaster at the time turned out to be not much more than a blip in the development of the department. In June of 1963 a fire completely destroyed the building in which the department was housed. Everything was lost---library, lighting equipment, costumes, properties, set pieces, tools, etc.

After floating for a year, the department was housed in its present location on the ground floor of Tatum Court with the theatre itself occupying the area that had once been a swimming pool. The theatre bounced back with new strength and went through its last renovation in 1973. Through the generosity of friends of the theatre, lighting and sound equipment were upgraded.

In 1994-95 the theatre began participation in the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF), a move that has proved to be one of the smartest decisions made by the theatre faculty. Each year six productions are chosen from the region, which is comprised of ten states. In the past seven years Carey has been selected six times for the regional festival and was an alternate in the other year. In 2001, “And David Danced,” an original play written by WCC theatre graduate, Jonathan Pope Evans, was selected as an ACTF national finalist to be performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. One month later the WCC cast and crew participated in the Fourth Annual English Theatre Festival held in Bratislava, Slovakia. The WCC students and faculty were the first Americans to ever be invited to the festival.

The 2002 production of “…out by the rabbit cage,” also written by Evans was recommended for presentation at the regional festival as well. Carey’s theatre program received the Governor’s Award for Collegiate Excellence in the Theatre Arts during ceremonies held in Jackson in 2002. Presented by Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, the award was the first of its kind to be given to a collegiate theatre program.
Then in 2010, the university dedicated the Joe and Virginia Tatum Theatre. The $1.4 million facility has a large black box performance space, a serving room for dinner theater and catwalks for lighting and sound crews. The O. L. Quave Theatre and surrounding office and storage space are still used by the theatre and communication faculty.

A colleague at another college has referred to Carey’s theatre as “the little school that could.” Operating in limited, crowded conditions that many would consider hopelessly inadequate, the WCU theatre program has grown and even flourished, coming to be highly respected in the state, region, and nation.