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Dalhousie's Department of Theatre developed out of the Dalhousie Drama Workshop, which was formed in 1963 by then recently appointed Professor of English John Ripley, who offered it as an adjunct to his English 9 (History of Drama) class. The following year, Susan Vallance was hired as an instructor, working jointly for the Education and the English departments and teaching Child Drama, the first credit course in any performance-based class. In 1965 theatre historian Lionel Lawrence came to Dalhousie, and in 1966 four credit courses in theatre were offered in the newly established Drama Division within the Department of English. In 1967/1968 a BA in Drama and Theatre was offered, and in 1968 the Senate agreed to separate the study of drama from the Department of English, and Alan Andrews left alongside to serve as the inaugural chair of the new Department of Theatre.
In its first few years, the department's offerings were largely theoretical and not designed to train students for the professional theatre, but with the 1971 opening of the Dalhousie Arts Centre, the capacity for offering practical instruction changed. The new building included a designated wing for theatre studies that housed the James Dunn Theatre, two teaching/performance studios, and costume and set workshops. In the 1973/1974 university calendar, the department description emphasized the nature of theatre as a performing art and offered its first degree credit classes in acting. The department began to develop collaborative relationships with local theatres, including Neptune, and teaching faculty included Canada Council Artists-in Residence such as Fred Allen and Nancey Pankiw (1974) and Robert Doyle (1977).
In 1975 the department began to offer a BA Honours degree in three streams—general, acting and scenography—and by 1976 all theatre students were expected to be involved regularly in either acting or in other areas of production work. With the support of Robert Doyle, in 1976 the department launched a three-year diploma program in Costumes Studies, which in 2005 started to be offered as a four-year Honours BA in Theatre (Costume Studies).
The Department of Theatre, along with the Department of Music, became a program within the Fountain School of Performing Arts in 2014.