In the early twentieth century, interest in the dramatic arts grew tremendously on college and university campuses. By 1920, most colleges had a dramatic organization staging plays annually for the campus and the community at large. Also around this time, little theatre productions and dramatic workshops began taking place. This furthered the interest in theatre on campuses everywhere, especially in the western part of the country. At this time, several honorary groups were formed to recognize Paul F. Opp, Founderand reward exemplary student participation in those productions.
In 1921, at Fairmont State College in Fairmont, West Virginia, college theater took root. A faculty director was hired in 1923, and the Masquers were formed. The Masquers were charged with presenting a season of 4 to 5 major productions per year for students and the general public. In 1924, the Masquers began searching for a national honorary organization to join. As there was no truly national organization, Elinor B. Watson, Robert Sloan, and Fairmont faculty director Paul F. Opp researched forming such a national organization.
As a result of their research and work, a proposed national constitution was drawn up, and, on August 12, 1925, the first cast of Alpha Psi Omega members, drawn from the Masquers, was initiated. It was then decided that each chapter was to be called a “cast,” and Fairmont College became the Alpha Cast. Soon after, Marshall College in Huntington, West Virginia, expressed interest in chartering a cast of Alpha Psi Omega; they founded the Beta Cast. A member from Huntington suggested the name “Playbill” for the national magazine, which was thereafter adopted.
Over the course of the following year, eighteen more casts were founded. When the first national convention was held on December 27-28, 1926, at the Palmer House in Chicago, twenty casts had been chartered. These national conventions, later known as Grand Rehearsals,were held once every 5 years. Today, the ‘National Meeting’ is held every year at the Southeastern Theatre Conference.
Throughout the country, Alpha Psi Omega has sponsored the formation of theatre honor societies in high schools and junior colleges, with the aim of encouraging dramatic production at every step in a person’s academic career. In 1929, after significant interest on the junior college level, Delta Psi Omega was formed. In 1936, at the Alpha Psi Omega Grand Rehearsal, Delta Psi Omega was officially recognized as the junior college division of Alpha Psi Omega. Today, there are over 350 Delta Psi Omega casts.
Alpha Psi Omega has enjoyed continuous national growth and, with over 600 casts, is the largest national honor society in America. Colleges and universities of recognized standing, having an established theatre program or theatre club for the purpose of producing plays, will be eligible for membership.
In 1994 the building at Fairmont State College (now University) in which Dr. Opp formed Alpha Psi Omega (4 year colleges), Delta Psi Omega (2 year Jr. colleges), and the Thespian Society (high school, now the International Thespian Society) was added to the National Register of Historic Places, in large part due to the formation of these groups.
The business of Alpha and Delta Psi Omega is supervised by National Officers. Such names as Paul Opp, Yetta Mitchell, Donald Garner, Jerry Henderson, and James Fisher are familiar to long-time cast members as officers in earlier years. Current officers are Rick Jones as President, Phoebe Hall as Vice President, Bret Jones as Business Manager and Editor of “Playbill”, and Joel Lord as Web Administrator.