Indiana University Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance PhD candidate Bridget Sundin recently delivered the following speech at our annual “Drama Prom”, an event that caps the academic year. It is an opportunity for the presentation of awards, accolades, and an exchange of sincere appreciation between faculty and students.
The 7th & Jordan Blog was not created as a mere propaganda machine for the Department’s productions and achievements. It is rather an opportunity for us to pull back the curtain, behind which we most often reveal encouraging, entertaining, and inspiring stories from our students, faculty, and staff. But no institution is without controversy, and to fail to give voice to dissent would be to fail as an institution of higher learning. So in that spirit, we are reprinting the text of this speech in its entirety honoring Dr. Ronald Wainscott, who retires this year following more than 20 years as the illustrious head of IU’s PhD program in Theatre History, Theory, and Dramatic Literature.
Good evening. I was honored when I was asked to say a few words about Dr. Ronald Wainscott, a man who has been my mentor these past four years I’ve been a PhD student at Indiana University. When Ron indicated that he would not be in attendance tonight, I asked him if he would like me to say anything in particular. His reply, in usual Ron style was, “What the hell, say whatever you want.” I bet Ron thinks I’m going to make some jokes tonight at his expense. I must admit, I did ponder writing a skit where Josh Robinson played a future Ron looking to start acting again in his retirement. For example, wouldn’t it be funny to see an imaginary future Ron auditioning for the roles of King Lear, Big Daddy, or Lady Bracknell? But instead, I am going to use the blank check Ron gave me to say something grounded in history because I would rather make Ron proud than make him chuckle.
The first theatre course taught at Indiana University took place in the English Department in 1915 and was entitled “The Staging of Plays.” By 1931 the Division of Speech was created in the English Department to accommodate the growing number of theatre classes offered. IU’s Department of Speech was formally created in 1945 and was renamed the Department of Speech and Theatre in 1957. In 1971 the Dept. of Speech split into two, one branch of which became the Dept. of Theatre and Drama. In 2014 the department became the Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance. As you can see, the theatre, drama, and performance folk have always already been evolving.
Ron Wainscott got his PhD in Theatre and Drama here at IU in 1985, where he studied with theatre history legends Oscar Brockett and Richard Moody. While you have most likely heard of Oscar Brockett via his Theatre History textbook, I trace this direct genealogy of scholarship to emphasize that if you have studied with Ron you have not only benefited from his world-renowned expertise in American Theatre and Drama, but you have benefited from the link he provides to two of the most if not THE most important American theatre historians of all time. If you haven’t had the good fortune of having Ron as a teacher here at IU, maybe you’ve had one of his PhD students as an instructor in Intro to Theatre or Script Analysis.
Ron has been the head of the PhD program in Theatre History, Theory, and Dramatic Literature at IU since 1995, and what you might not know is that it is one of the most respected theatre doctoral programs in the country – with a rich 70 year history boasting 95% job placement rates, which is unheard of in this day and age in higher ed. In November of 2017 both faculty and doctoral students were informed that the PhD program in Theatre and Drama would be terminated.
The demolition of the PhD program in Theatre and Drama is a disgrace to Ron’s legacy as well as the 70 year legacy of our doctoral program.
In conclusion, if Ron has taught me anything it is this: we are often surrounded by idiots with no understanding of history. This might sound like one of Ron’s harsh funny truths that you laugh at and write down in your notebook so you never forget, but what I think Ron really means is until we take on active roles as students of history, the future is a cheap version of what could be.