The Royall Tyler Theatre owes its existence to a providential fire which in 1886 demolished the University's ramshackle gymnasium. By 1898, under-exercised students and faculty hotly protested the lack of physical facilities at UVM, so the next year President Matthew Henry Buckham reported that for $20,000 a very plain gymnasium could be provided. A site next to the Old Mill was selected in 1900, and plans were prepared by the Boston architectural firm of Andrews, Jaques and Rantoul. President Buckham, unwilling to erect a costly building though expecting a gymnasium that would be harmonious with existing buildings, must have taken comfort in the fact that these architects were pupils of H. H. Richardson, whose handiwork, Billings Library, graced the campus.
The genesis of the Royall Tyler Theatre was not without pain and disappointment. Compatible facilities for the fine arts were envisioned by President Carl Borgmann as early as 1955, but funds were not allocated for devising a workable plan until 1967. In conjunction with a noted firm of Chicago architects, UVM's artists, musicians, rhetoricians, and thespians devised a performance complex that centered upon the old Art Building and the Fleming Museum, but these ambitions were not realized because of diminished budgets. Nor was money available in 1969, so Director of Theatre Edward J. Feidner revived a proposal that the old Gymnasium be fashioned into a new theatre. The plan offered distinct advantages: a campus architectural gem could be preserved and put into worthy use while saving money. Feidner's scheme was adopted and is now a happy reality. Passing beneath intricately-carved eaves and entering through the ornate Romanesque arch, the visitor steps into a large foyer that contains the ticket center, marketing office, business office, classrooms, and the staircases that ascend to the upper lobby. From the stairwell one sees the magnificent woodwork of the original ceiling. The Craftsbury Room, or upper lobby, itself serves a vestibule and concert hall. Faculty offices open onto the lobby as well. The spectator then passes through the main entrances to the Royall Tyler Theatre. Because of the fifty-foot ceiling, there is a sense of airiness and intimacy, for each of the 295 seats commands a clear view of the stage, which can be adapted to thrust, arena, and proscenium staging. Backstage are dressing rooms, a green room, and other spaces necessary to mount stage productions. Beneath the level of the stage are scenery and costume shops, stage areas, classrooms, and faculty offices.
The Royall Tyler Theatre is a facility designed for teaching and learning, the goal of which is the liberation of the mind and enrichment of the spirit to which the College of Arts & Sciences is dedicated.