As the audience filed into a dimly lit theatre, they had no idea what they were about to witness. As the production of Old Man Pete wrapped up, the audience showed their appreciation in applause and cheers. On Tuesday and Wednesday nights, history repeated itself.On those nights, the Speech and Theatre department performed Old Man Pete, a play performed 70 years ago.
“This play wasn’t on our regular playbill,” said Dr. King David Godwin, department head. “We wanted to do something to honor Dr. Sandle, so we added it.”
The play was performed in 1938 and was written by Randol Edmonds. Sandle was just arriving to GSU and was the director. Thirteen years after the play, a new department was founded, eventually becoming what is now the Speech and Theatre Department.
In 1959, Sandle received his Ph.D. from Louisiana State University, making him the first African-American to receive a Ph.D. in Theatre in Louisiana. Sandle eventually went on to write a book, The Negro in the American Educational Theatre, and was the dean of the Arts and Sciences department.
Sandle was also instrumental in forming the National Association of Dramatic Speech Arts (NADSA) with his mentor Edmonds.
Sandle’s work placed GSU as one of the premier institutions for Black talent in the theatre field.
“Most of those persons in the early theatre came from Tennessee State University, (GSU), and Florida A&M University,” explained Godwin. “Students from those institutions are the ones that gave way to today’s actors and actresses.”
Currently, GSU has 60 Speech and Theatre majors with ten paid faculty and staff members occupying one side of Dunbar Hall, a building that is scheduled to be demolished in the near future. The new Dunbar Hall, located by the Nursing building, is slated to open either late Spring semester or for the Fall semester.
Upon moving into the new facility, Godwin would like to see the department improve greatly.
“I would like for us to become the premier institution in theatre and arts,” he said. “We are in the beginning stages of doing that.”
Godwin is currently looking to form alliances with other schools in hopes to do joint-school productions. In February, the department will put on a big production of the play Othello. The production will try to recreate the actual marble theater it usually is performed in.
That will be easier said than done, as the department doesn’t get much money for its yearly budget. As of now, the department only gets $1 per student from the student referendum. With the university’s enrollment around 5,200 students, that gives the department a little over $10,000 to put on plays for the year.
Plays nowadays cost $2 each, up $1 from the last year. Godwin explained that the increased price is necessary in order for the department to continue to pay their expenses. Godwin said most of their expenses come from costumes, props, equipment, and sets.
Deron James, a sophomore theatre major, relates to the frustrations of not being adequately equipped.
“It’s hard,” he said. “We don’t have our costumes, furniture, or equipment.”
However, the students of the department continue to keep pushing.
“The people from the department, the encouragement we get from people that comes to our shows.that keeps us going,” James said.
As the new Dunbar Hall nears its completion, there is a lot of positive talk about the future of the program.
“I feel the department is going to grow with new and upcoming talent,” James said. “With a new building, we’ll be able to put on more productions and showcase our talent.”
Even though the road is nearly complete to the new building, Godwin wants to continue building highways for the students.
“We want to provide opportunities for them to perform at different locations, whether amateur theatre or national theatre,” Godwin said. “We see (our students) as emerging art.