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News & Events

There's never a dull moment at The Theatre School; here are some of the highlights. Check back often to find out about upcoming events and to get the latest stories.

Submissions Now Being Accepted for Cunningham Commission for Youth Theatre 

The Theatre School at DePaul University is pleased to announce that submissions are now being accepted for the Cunningham Commission for Youth Theatre. Playwrights from the Chicagoland area and alumni of The Theatre School are eligible to apply, and the winner will be announced in June. The deadline for submissions is April 1, 2019.

Night Runner by Ike Holter     
Isaac Gomez, Winner of the 2017 Cunningham Commission for Youth Theatre

The Cunningham Commission for Youth Theatre was established at The Theatre School to honor the memory of the Rev. Donald Cunningham, a Chicago priest, playwright, and lover of theatre. The Cunningham Commission was established by an endowment gift from the Cunningham family and is presented annually. The purpose of the commission is to encourage the writing of dramatic works for young audiences that affirm the centrality of religion, broadly defined, and the human quest for meaning, truth, and community. The Theatre School intends to produce the plays created through this commission in its award-winning Chicago Playworks for Families and Young Audiences series. Each year, Chicago Playworks produces three productions that are attended by over 30,000 young people and their families.

Candidates should submit 
A resume
• One sample of their playwriting work (no more than 20 pages). The writing sample may be from a play of any genre for any audience.
• A brief statement about their interest in the commission.
• A paragraph-length description of a possible project

The commission timeline is as follows:
• June 2019: Winner announcement and contract signing.
• September 3, 2019: Script treatment due on proposed project. Feedback will be collected from committee and given to playwright within four weeks.
• December 3, 2019: First draft due (payment upon delivery).
• February 3, 2020: Notes from Theatre School committee delivered to playwright.
• April 1, 2020: Second draft due (payment upon delivery).
• May 2020: Reading/Workshop, followed by discussion of draft.
• September 2, 2020: Third draft due (final payment upon delivery). Play will then be considered for the following year’s Chicago Playworks for Families and Young Audiences series.

The fee for the Cunningham Commission is $6000, with an additional fee provided if the play is produced as part of the Chicago Playworks series. The selection committee is chaired by Phil Timberlake, and is composed of members of the Cunningham Commission advisory committee and faculty of The Theatre School. Please send all entries to: Cunningham Commission Selection Committee, The Theatre School at DePaul University, 2350 N. Racine Avenue, Chicago, 60614. Questions and entries can also be sent to

Thank you to everyone who helped celebrate the renaming of the Dr. John R. and Joyce L. Watts Theatre on Tuesday, June 12th. It was yet another special moment in The Theatre School’s history. 

The first performance in the Watts Theatre will be this Fall: She Kills Monsters by Qui Nguyen, directed by Damon Kiely.

Check out a few photos from the event!​


Fullerton Stage at DePaul University to be Renamed Dr. John R. and Joyce L. Watts Theatre
Former Dean was Instrumental in Move of Goodman School of Drama to DePaul

The Theatre School at DePaul University announces its renaming the Fullerton Stage in recognition of John Ransford Watts, a former dean and artistic director, and his wife, Joyce, a former business consultant and academic administrator, for a generous gift to the school. A June ceremony is being planned to acknowledge the couple's philanthropy and unveil the 250-seat thrust theatre as the Dr. John R. and Joyce L. Watts Theatre.
Dr. John R. and Joyce L. Watts
Dr. John R. and Joyce L. Watts

Role in establishing The Theatre School at DePaul
In 1925, the department of drama at the Art Institute of Chicago became the Goodman School of Drama. Five decades later, the trustees of the Art Institute voted to phase out the school over a three-year period, citing a $200,000 deficit. Faculty, staff, students, alumni and interested citizens mounted a campaign to save the school.

DePaul acquired the Goodman School of Drama in 1978, establishing it as the university’s ninth college. The next year, John Watts, a teacher, designer, director and scholar, was recruited as dean and charged with reestablishing the ailing school to restore its proud reputation, appoint a faculty and acquire facilities. Over the next 20 years, Watts reshaped The Theatre School at DePaul into one of the top conservatory theatre programs in the country.

Under Watts’ guidance, The Theatre School has graduated countless actors, designers, directors, technicians, playwrights, managers and dramaturgs whose impact on the Chicago theatre landscape is immeasurable, according to John Culbert, the current dean.“John Watts’ inspired leadership for the first two decades of The Theatre School’s life at DePaul University built the foundation upon which all that we now do rests. His work to secure the position of the school within DePaul, attract high-quality staff and faculty, and develop sophisticated curriculum made top 10 conservatory rankings, our new facilities, and amazing alumni accomplishments possible,” Culbert said.“He continued the legacy of the Chicago Playworks for Families and Young Audiences series, which has served nearly 1.2 million young people since his arrival in 1979,” Culbert noted.

Many of the programs and activities Watts put in place have become traditions at The Theatre School: remote auditions, annual touring graduate showcases, and discussions with visiting artists. He also started the Annual Awards for Excellence in the Arts in 1989, which has generated to date more than $7 million for scholarships. In 1988 Watts was instrumental in orchestrating DePaul’s acquisition of the historic Blackstone Theatre, now known as the Merle Reskin Theatre, in Chicago’s South Loop.

John R. and Joyce L. Watts
John Watts holds an undergraduate degree and a Master of Education degree from Boston College, a Master of Fine Arts degree from Yale University, and a doctorate from Union Graduate College. He has done post-graduate work at Harvard, UCLA and Oxford.

He has had a distinguished and productive association with the arts, the humanities, and with education in Massachusetts, California and Illinois. For 15 years he was on the faculty of the School for the Arts at Boston University as Professor of Theatre, and for five years as associate dean.

He was appointed as the founding chairman of the Massachusetts Council on the Arts and Humanities, serving in that position for four years.

In 1974, he accepted a one-year guest artist appointment to the faculty of the School of Fine Arts at California State University, Long Beach, which led to his becoming a tenured professor, associate dean, and then dean of the school.

While in California, beyond academic leadership, he helped found and served as director and vice president of the Public Corporation for the Arts.

In 2000, John Watts received a lifetime achievement award from the Joseph Jefferson Committee “for development and support of theatre artists and the Chicago theatre community during his almost two decades as Dean of the Theatre School/DePaul University.” That same year, he also received a Via Sapientiae Award from DePaul University, its highest recognition for excellent service and accomplishment.

Joyce Watts has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and journalism from California State University, Long Beach, and an MBA from the Kellogg School at Northwestern University.

She has 20 years of higher education experience and 22 years of business consulting experience. In addition to being a past president of Chicago Women in Management, she is an active member and fundraiser for P.E.O. International, a philanthropic organization that provides educational opportunities for women.

Supporting The Theatre School at DePaul
At the June ceremony, faculty, staff and friends will recognize John and Joyce Watts and their longstanding leadership and financial contributions to the establishment and growth of The Theatre School. In remarks, DePaul President A. Gabriel. Esteban, Ph.D., will recognize the Watts for their most recent generous gift as well as their 2006 scholarship endowment that supports students in the playwriting program.The 250-seat thrust theatre and the 100-seat black box Sondra A. and Denis Healy Theatre are center stage in the 165,000 square foot artistic home of The Theatre School at the corner of Racine and Fullerton avenues. The custom-designed five-story building, which debuted in fall 2013, also houses classrooms; acting labs; scene shop; costume shop; new media workshops; and makeup, paint and lighting laboratories.

The Theatre School at DePaul University trains students to the highest level of professional skill and artistry in an inclusive and diverse conservatory setting. Some 350 students are enrolled in undergraduate programs that offer degrees in acting, costume design, costume technology, lighting design, scene design, sound design, stage management, theatre technology, dramaturgy/criticism, playwriting, theatre arts and theatre management.

Graduate programs offer degrees in acting, arts leadership and directing. Many of the faculty and staff of some 100 professionals maintain their connections and artistic work in all aspects of
Chicago's renowned and thriving theatre community.
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