UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The birth of the Frederic Wood Theatre -- how the early development of the University of British Columbia fostered the establishment of the Theatre Department and the Frederic Wood Theatre Benson, Marilyn Leigh


It has been said that the character of an institution is largely determined by its history and the personalities that shaped it. If this is so, the Frederic Wood Theatre has much to draw on, for it was founded in the spirit of cooperation and promise. This thesis traces the beginning of the university from the original petition for its formation, through its early struggle to be established. Concurrent with this expansion is the growth of theatre at the university, a development which helped to introduce the institution throughout the province. The current Frederic Wood Theatre is the outgrowth of a tradition of theatre at the University of British Columbia. The beginning of this historical retrospective is the original petition for the founding of the university. Subsequent to that initial and failed attempt, the University of British Columbia was created by legislation through the efforts of Henry Esson Young, the "Father of the university", and by organization through the works of Frank Fairchild Wesbrook, its first President. Professor Frederic Wood, a founding member of the faculty in 1915, formed the Players'Club which provided the university its theatrical foundation for the next thirty years. Dorothy Somerset, a Director of the Players'Club and the Vancouver Little Theatre (also co-founded by Prof. Frederic Wood) established accredited theatre courses at the university and founded the Summer School of the Theatre. In 1952, these achievements won her the university's first legitimate theatre: the Frederic Wood. With single-minded purpose, Dorothy Somerset further established the Department of Theatre in 1958, building the present 410 seat Frederic Wood Theatre five years later in 1963. More than a physical building, the Frederic Wood Theatre is a dynamic process responding to the energies and influences of its principals. Seven individuals (out of hundreds) who were fundamental in contributing to the accomplishments of the Frederic Wood Theatre are introduced: Henry Esson Young, ''Father of the University'; Frank Fairchild Wesbrook, first President of the University of British Columbia; Professor Frederic G.C. Wood, founder of the Players' Club; Dorothy Somerset, founder of the Department of Theatre; Jessie Richardson, in whose honour years later, the Jessie Awards were created; Norman Young, stage manager, publicizer and lobbyist, and John Brockington, Head of the Theatre Department for 23 years, the man who guided and developed its academic and degree granting programs. Few people realize how great a role the theatre has played in the establishment of the University of British Columbia.

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