In the spring of 1957 two neophyte organizations in the West San Fernando Valley searched for a solution to their organizations' needs. Marsha Hunt Presnell, an actress, and Robert Tunks were searching for a program which would attract Valley teenagers to the newly created San Fernando Valley Youth Foundation (SFVYF). On the new San Fernando Valley State College (SFVSC) campus, Dean Dr. Delmar T. Oviatt and Mrs. Marvin Owen, Advisory Board member, searched for a venue that would call attention to the one-semester old campus as a source for enriching the social and cultural life of the growing community. The creation of the Teenage Drama Workshop (TADW) proved to be the ideal solution to both their searches (Schlosser).
The Department of Language and Literature at the college had just completed the production of Many Moons, a play for children. The cast consisted of almost all of the drama students at the college and many teenagers from the community. Because its director, William E. Schlosser, had recruited eager teenagers from the community to fill his cast, he was approached by Hunt and Oviatt to consider the possibility of some sort of drama oriented program for the summer of 1957 (Schlosser).
As the college campus consisted at that time of only twenty temporary wooden buildings and no performance space, a tent (photo 2) was rented and erected on what is now the Zelzah Parking lot, and the Teenage Drama Workshop opened its doors (or tent flaps) for the First Annual Teenage Drama Workshop. Eighty-six students enrolled in the new program and the productions of Greensleeves' Magic, Lady Precious Stream, Mr. Dooley Jr., and Alice in Wonderland played to appreciative audiences. Although the plays were artistic successes, according to Schlosser, they were not sold out and the program's budget finished in the red. The program, however, had received outstanding press. During the fall of 1957, the Department mounted a benefit production of Aladdin and His Lamp and toured with the aid of the San Fernando Valley Youth Foundation erasing the program's deficit (Schlosser).
The college administration evaluated the program and felt it should be sponsored solely by the college through the College Foundation. The summer of 1958 found the Second Annual Teenage Drama Workshop operating in one half of the "P" building. The other half of the building was used by the Building and Grounds Department as a carpenter shop. The lavatories of the wooden structures assigned to the Art Department became dressing rooms, costume storage, and the make-up rooms. The carpenter shop became a temporary scene shop. The Third Annual TADW again was located in the converted tin "P" building now called the Intime Theatre. The following year the workshop moved to the Stock Pavilions (photo 3) of the Devonshire Downs. The move to the Downs was made in an effort to obtain greater overall space and to afford greater audience comfort. In 1961, TADW moved into the newly completed Speech Drama Building on Nordhoff Avenue (Schlosser).
The reputation of the program grew and in 1968, one production, From Rags to Riches (photo 4), was a feature of the Children's Theatre Conference of the American Theatre Association. During this time, applicants continually outnumbered the available spaces in the program (Schlosser); (Handbook, 1981, 8).
Each year the program has produced a different theatre experience for all those attending, students, faculty, and support staff. This is because the program has attracted different visiting instructors of various backgrounds from the academic as well as the professional theatre. Each year, the workshop has drawn upon the personal experiences of these visiting artists to produce productions that have been widely varied from musical comedy to children's drama. The curriculum continuously has been updated with courses such as mime, improvisation and musical theatre. In 1981, the twenty-fifth anniversary of TADW, the children's play Androcles and the Lion, written by Aurand Harris, was produced as part of the workshop. Harris also directed it. When being interviewed about why so many plays by Aurand Harris were produced over the years, Schlosser stated that Harris was one of the leading children's playwrights of the time and that the two of them knew each other while they attended Northwestern University. Schlosser further stated that the idea for the Teenage Drama Program came from Northwestern's Cherub Program for High School Students in which he had taken part. Northwestern's program, however, is a combination of the Speech, Drama, Radio, and Television departments. Because the Teenage Drama Workshop at CSUN is sponsored by the Theatre Department alone, it is considered to be the oldest or one of the oldest drama programs for teenagers in the United States.
In the summer of 2014, TADW completed its fifty-seventh workshop with the production of Beauty and the Beast, Cirque des Pirates, and Joining the Spectrum. When the curtain lowered after the final production, its current executive director, Doug Kaback, estimated that over the years over 5,000 teenagers have now studied and participated in this ongoing program. During that entire time, the TADW program was not staged only once, and that was in 1993.
Through the years there have been seven different executive directors of the workshop with Kaback, Schlosser, and Maryellen Clemons having the longest tenures. Some of the directors actively participated in the program while others took a more administrative approach to the program. Because of this, the workshops have tended to take on the emphasis or personality of the director who was currently in charge of the program. Examples of this are the administrative directorship of Anamarie Gallardo (1992) and the introduction of the Ten Minute Plays by Kaback. These plays are a series of short plays that are written and performed by the students.