The theater program at Brandeis was founded in 1951 by visiting professor of dramatic art Louis Kronenberger and was part of the School of Creative Arts. In 1956, Assistant Professor John F. Matthews was named the first chairperson of the Theater Arts Department. Since then, seven other faculty members have chaired the department: John F. Matthews (1956-1958), Edwin B. Pettet (1958-1966), Howard Bay (1966-68), James H. Clay (1969-71, 1985), Martin Halpern (1972-75, 1982-84), Charles W. Moore (1976-1978), Theodore L. Kazanoff (1979-1981), and Michael Murray (1986-2003).
An Artists-In-Residence program was started in 1965-66, and the Master of Fine Arts Program was established in 1966. Mention of the M.F.A. program first appears in the 1967-1968 Brandeis University Bulletin. Concentrations within the M.F.A. program have included acting, directing, design, cinematography, and dramatic writing. In 2002-03, the department began offering a B.A. in Liberal Arts with a major or minor in Theater Arts, and a M.F.A. with concentrations in acting or design. The department also oversees the Nate and Frances Spingold Theater complex, which was completed in 1965.