The Theatre School > About > Faculty & Staff > Emeritus > Bio

John Ransford Watts

  • Dean Emeritus
  • MFA Yale University; PhD Union Graduate School; Post-graduate studies at Harvard, UCLA and Oxford
  • Emeriti Professor

Dr. Watts came to the school in 1979 several months after it arrived at DePaul from the Art Institute of Chicago. He was recruited to lead and guide the school from its life as a three-year conservatory program at the Goodman Theatre to become a four-year conservatory in the collegiate setting of a major urban university. The challenge was to sustain the intensity and the professional standards which were reflected in the professional reputation the school had earned since its founding in 1925. The task was to bring about change, for the school to grow and transform itself yet to retain its focused conservatory-based essence as one of America’s premiere theatre training institutions. The first effort was simultaneously to review and redesign all the curricular programs to strengthen, not diminish, the conservatory intensities and engage a faculty and staff of teaching artists to flesh out undergraduate programs into new BFA sequences and to redesign and strengthen the MFA programs. An undergraduate sequence of courses in Liberal Studies was carefully designed to extend and enrich the education of the conservatory students while in the school and to point the way to lifelong learning. Parallel with that, working with the entire community, he developed a long range strategic plan which was to lead to temporary facilities, permanent facilities, development/fundraising efforts and a continual outreach to alumni, friends and the Chicago community. An Advisory Council was established, as were procedures for governance, faculty/staff/administrator reviews, ways to evaluate, support and encourage the students were developed and continual evaluations and reviews of the curriculum were started. Connections with the profession in Chicago as well as in New York and Los Angeles were strengthened. Generating funds for scholarships and financial aid became a major order of business. Some of the programs and activities he put in place have lived on to become traditions in the school: the remote auditions, the annual touring Graduate Showcase, the round table discussions at the school from visiting artists and others called Chicago Live: The Arts, the Convocation which initiates each school year, the faculty/staff retreats and planning/evaluating sessions that start and end each season, the annual Awards for Excellence in the Arts and Gala Benefit which he originated in 1990 and which has since then either directly or indirectly generated more than a million dollars for scholarships while bringing scores of distinguished artists from all the theatre professions to DePaul for recognition and to celebrate their work, the New Directors Series which joined the Theatre School Showcase and Chicago Playworks in the early 1990s, the Cunningham Endowment now supporting the development of new scripts for young audiences, the annual Masked Ball. New degree programs and concentrations for which he gave encouragement, guidance and funding include Costume Technology and the Theatre Studies sequences in Playwriting, Theatre Management, Theatre Arts, and Dramaturgy/Criticism. While dean and producer he oversaw the selection, planning, budgeting and realization of some 30 productions each season in five interrelated series, most offered for public audiences for a total of some 600 projects during his tenure. In 1988 he was instrumental in orchestrating DePaul’s acquisition of the historic Blackstone Theatre and over time fulfilled his obligation to the Trustees of the University to see to it that their investment was repaid in full. In 1999 he produced a celebration of the Centennial of the founding of the University and served as Master of Ceremonies for the event at Chicago’s McCormick Place. During his time as dean, the small group of faculty and staff who had come with the school to DePaul from the Goodman Theatre in 1978 grew to a community of 75 teacher/artist/scholar practitioners. Before coming to the school, Dr. Watts had been the dean of the School of Fine Arts at California State University, Long Beach, and prior to that associate dean and professor at the School for the Arts at Boston University. In the profession he had been the producing director of The Theatre Company of Boston, the Poets’ Theatre in Cambridge, associate director and general manager of the Boston Arts Festival and of the Cambridge Drama Festival. While at Boston University, in conjunction with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, he established and directed the Boston University Tanglewood Institute, a joint project of the university and the orchestra with programs in music, dance, theatre and the visual arts taking place at the Berkshire Music Center, the summer home of the BSO. In the public sector he was the founding Chairman of the Massachusetts Council on the Arts and Humanities, and he was director and vice-president of the Public Corporation for the Arts for the City of Long Beach, California. His special areas of teaching and research include theatre history, dramatic literature, arts management and directing. Over a career of some 45 years he has designed, produced or directed close to a thousand productions. As a participant in a series of international cultural exchange missions he has lectured and conducted master classes, seminars and workshops throughout the United States, Canada, South America, Australia and Europe. Dean Watts retired from the Theatre School in 1999, completing 20 years of service to the school. In 2000 DePaul University granted him the Via Sapientiae Award, the institution’s highest recognition for excellent service and accomplishment, and the Joseph Jefferson Committee presented him with their Lifetime Achievement Award. The John R and Joyce L Watts Scholarship Fund was endowed at The Theatre School to support students in the Playwriting program.