UCSD honors theater department founder

What’s it like to have a theater named after you?

“Very special,” said Arthur Wagner, founder and emeritus faculty of UCSD’s Department of Theatre and Dance who was honored with the dedication of the 99-seat Arthur Wagner Theatre at a campus reception Nov. 21.

“This one is particularly pleasing to me because it’s in the theater’s building, where all the students eventually come and where a lot of students work. This is like a teaching theater.”

Since retiring, Wagner and his wife Molli have continued to be intimately involved, and financially supportive, of the department he founded. The couple has funded The Arthur and Molli Wagner Chair in Acting and The Molli and Arthur Wagner Dance Building, as well as recently pledging $500,000 to fund graduate fellowships in acting to support deserving young artists.

Competitive world

“The world of professional training programs is very competitive,” Wagner noted, “and although we have been ranked in the past with Yale and NYU as one of the top three MFA programs in the country, we tend to compete with the same kinds of students. Graduate fellowships help us to recruit the best students.”

Arthur Wagner Theatre features a full sound, light and stage management booth and dressing rooms.

There’s been an incredible amount of development at UCSD’s theater department since Wagner, a professionally trained actor who pursued an academic career founding professional actor training programs at Tulane, Ohio and Temple universities, came in 1972 to be the university’s first Department of Drama chairman.

From ground up

One of the first things Wagner did when he came to the campus was to develop a graduate program from the ground up.

“We only had an undergraduate program in place then,” he said, “and I was told the faculty might grow to seven. When I finished my tour of duty in 1977 we were already at 11. We now have well over 30 full-time faculty.”

Recognition is nice, said Wagner, but seeing the seed you planted long ago bearing fruit is even sweeter.

“I take a great deal of pride, and pleasure, in the way it has happened,” he said. “This sort of thing could only happen at UCSD, the forward-thinking, overachieving campus.”

Overdue honor

Frank Teplin, associate director of development for the Division of Arts and Humanities at UCSD, said Wagner’ recognition for his longtime service and support of the arts at UCSD is as well deserved as it is overdue.

“It’s a wonderful way to give some tribute to Arthur, naming it after him,” he said. “It just shows his continued dedication to support and enhance the department that he founded and created from scratch.”

Teplin added that the drama department has used Wagner’s theater for a couple of years now, almost every weekend by graduate and undergraduate actors and designers.

Today, the program offers six MFA degree areas in acting, design, directing, playwriting, stage management and dance theater, as well as a Ph.D. in theater.