The Department of Drama at the University of Puerto Ricohas exercised great influence on theater education in Puerto Rico through its graduates. From its beginnings in 1941, this unit of the College of Humanities, at the Río Piedras campus has had the education of our people as its fundamental purpose.
In 1941, Leopoldo (Poldín) Santiago Lavandero founded the Teatro Universitario (University Theater) and began its theatrical activities in the old auditorium of the university –at that time, the University of Puerto Rico was still a single campus, in Río Piedras. In 1945, he created the Teatro Rodante Universitario (University Traveling Theater) with Rafael Cruz Eméric. A year later, in 1946, he began the Teatro Infantil Universitario (University Children’s Theater), afterwards known as the Comedieta Universitaria, which Victoria Espinosa directed until it ceased to exist in 1964. The Comedieta stimulated artistic creation in children and adolescents who went to the University Theater, week after week, to encounter the magical world of theater.
The group that Santiago Lavandero created in 1941 took up the challenge of producing ongoing theater on the university campus, and to advance that effort, it had to begin by training the people who were interested. There were few formal classes and it was not until the university company was joined by Rafael Cruz Eméric, a master of set design, Helen Sackett, a master of wardrobe design, and later Carlos Marichal and Ludwig Schajowicz, that theater courses came to be offered with its faculty attached to Fine Arts.
Among the first outstanding students of Santiago Lavandero and Schajowicz were Angel Rivera, Nilda González and Victoria Espinosa -a woman who still shares her knowledge and talent in the Department of Drama. The work of these pioneers in the teaching of theater in Puerto Rico was impressive. In only six years, the Department of Drama had been created, with its University Theater, its Traveling Theater, and its Children’s Theater.
The university theater has been, since its very beginning, the laboratory and principal workshop for the courses offered by the drama department. The Puerto Rican public, and in particular the university public, has had the opportunity to see the most important dramatic works of world theater, from classical Greek theater to the works of young Puerto Rican dramatists, on the stage of the University of Puerto Rico theater.
The Traveling Theater has, over its long history, made its way to almost every town in Puerto Rico, eager to take theater to the people who cannot go to traditional playhouses. The group of students who make up the traveling theater company has also traveled outside Puerto Rico on several occasions, and its participation in festivals such as El Paso and Almagro have received broad, favorable comment.
The most important contribution that the drama department has made to our society, however, is educational theater. There has been a commitment to improving the quality of the theater that is offered to the public and to its development through training of critical and aesthetic skills, demonstrating that education is a living thing and that it must be the goal of our schools to foster and inspire creativity.
There are very few teachers in the Department of Education who have not had the benefit of dramatic orientation at the hands of the drama department. Many have had the opportunity to take courses offered by the department, and its summer workshops, prepared especially for teachers, will always be remembered by them.
Course offerings for students interested in making the teaching of drama their career have continued to be refined and broadened over time. Courses such as Teatro para niños (Theater for Children), Teatro de títeres (Puppet Theater), Taller de teatro experimental (Experimental Theater), and Actividades y juegos dramáticos (Dramatic Activities and Games) have been designed taking into account teachers of theater in the public schools.
The drama department, though a department within the College of Humanities, has been and remains for Puerto Rico the theater school, the practical school for training actors, technicians, directors and teachers of drama. It has served to expose the university community and the public at large to dramatic works that that are universal and timeless.
Author: Dr. Dean Zayas
Published: September 29, 2008.
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