Frederic Wood Theatre

Dorothy Somerset directed the annual productions of the Players’ Club from 1934 to 1938 at which time she joined the UBC Extension Department and founded the Summer School of Theatre. Students were able to earn credits in the English Department for courses taken as part of the Summer School of Theatre. By the late 1940s, the English Department offered two theatre courses.

In August 1951 during the opening night performance of the Summer School of Theatre’s production of You Can Never Tell, Dean Walter Gage brought Dorothy Somerset to the recently closed Totem Coffee bar. Consisting of two army huts joined together in a t-shape, the building had been designated by the Board of Governors for conversion into a theatre for academic work in dramatics.

Original Frederic Wood Theatre, ca. 1960 -- UBC 1.1/1481Original Frederic Wood Theatre, ca. 1960

With financial support from the Board, Alumni Association, friends of the University and the Leon and Thea Koerner Foundation, the original Frederic Wood Theatre was opened by President Norman Mackenzie in December 1952. The first presentation in the 123-seat facility was a reading of Earl Birney’s Trial of a City. The Frederic Wood Theatre also served as the first home of the Holiday Theatre founded by Joy Coghill.

Following its creation in 1958, UBC’s Theatre Department assumed responsibility for a full teaching program as well as the presentation of seasonal dramatic productions. The program offered at the Frederic Wood Theatre was designed to bring to the attention of the University community and the general public plays a variety of plays. The productions were directed by Theatre Department staff with backstage work done by students or volunteers, and the roles acted by either students or professionals. Between 1952 and 1963 the original Frederic Wood Theatre provided a home to some 60 plays and another 14 children’s productions.

The original Frederic Wood Theatre enjoyed considerable success to the extent that by the early 1960s it was inadequate to properly support the Theatre Department productions. A new theatre building was included in for the Norman MacKenzie Centre for Fine Arts at UBC and the new Frederic Wood Theatre officially opened in 1963. It includes both the 400-seat Theatre proper and the 90-seat Dorothy Somerset Studio.

Frederic Wood Theatre, ca. 1965 -- UBC 1.1/1482Frederic Wood Theatre, ca. 1965

Frederic Wood with Dorothy Somerset posing on-stage, 1952 -- UBC 3.1/1070-1Dorothy Somerset and Freddy Wood on original Frederic Wood Theatre stage, 1952

© 2008 UBC Library - University Archives