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News & Events

​​​​5/20/21 | The Theatre School Announces New Two-Year MFA Program

The Theatre School has reviewed and modified the curriculum of the current MFA Acting program to make the change from a three-year program to a two-year program. The faculty adapted the curriculum to include courses that will propel graduates into the ever-changing entertainment industry. Through elimination of the third year of the MFA Acting program, The Theatre School can reduce tuition for the students and allow graduates to re-enter the profession more quickly. The Theatre School will accept 14 students into the MFA acting program each year, with the first class entering this fall. All accepted students will receive scholarship assistance.

“The new two-year MFA in Acting represents a major revision of a celebrated program that has graduated top talent for over fifty years," explained Dexter Bullard, head of the MFA Acting program. “Compressing and intensifying the work makes the program more inclusive, innovative, much more affordable, sustainable, and specifically focused on the field for the 21st century.” Graduates of the MFA Acting program include Karen Aldridge, W. Earl Brown, P.J. Byrne, Celeste M. Cooper, Ann Dowd, and Larry Yando.

MFA students acting
Graduate actors study a progression of active and rigorous movement, voice, speech, and acting that synthesize training with intelligence, imagination, and ethical practice. Courses capture experiences in the work of improvisation, anti-racism and equity, dramatic writing, acting on camera, digital media, critical studies in dramatic literature and performance, networking, self-producing, activism, talent management, and personal branding.

Actors will have many opportunities to collaborate on productions on The Theatre’s School’s varied stages and performance spaces. Professors, industry specialists, and working artists will connect the coursework to practical application in the field. The program philosophy is to develop singular voices based on intersectional identities that will multiply stories that reflect America as a place of truth, humanity, and openness. The two-year program will launch early-career actors into the national and international theatrical and entertainment landscape.

Dexter Bullard is a Chicago-based theater director and head of the graduate acting program at The Theatre School at DePaul University. His recent credits include Grace (Broadway); Sucker Punch, Circle Mirror Transformation (Victory Gardens Theater); Big Meal (American Theatre Company, Jeff-nominated); Odradek (The House Theatre of Chicago); Mistakes Were Made (Barrow Street Theater Off-Broadway, A Red Orchid Theatre); The DIALogues (Links Hall, MCA); Reverie (The Second City at the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal); Lady (Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre Off-Broadway); and Gas for Less (Goodman Theatre). In 2004, Dexter was awarded the Lucille Lortel Award for Tracy Letts’s Bug at The Barrow Street Theater, as well as a Drama Desk Nomination. In 1995 Dexter co–founded Plasticene, a physical theater company whose critically–acclaimed experimental works were featured at The Steppenwolf Studio, The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, The Storefront Theatre, Performing Arts Chicago, MCA, and in New York City. With Plasticene, he directed and collaboratively created 14 original works over 15 years including doorslam (1995), The Palmer Raids (2003) and From A Fading Light (2010). Since 1996, Dexter has also directed with The Second City, leading a National Touring Company and developing revues at E.T.C. and at Second City Detroit. Dexter also founded The Next Lab at The Next Theatre where he directed Bouncers, for which he received a Jefferson Citation and an After Dark Award. As Associate Artistic Director at Next Theatre, he directed and/or created eight shows for mainstage and Lab as well as producing the world premiere of Tracy Letts’s Killer Joe. He has also directed projects for Steppenwolf’s First Look, Famous Door Theatre, Northlight Theatre, American Blues, Hartford Stage Company, Links Hall and several times for A Red Orchid Theatre. He studied acting and theater at Northwestern and received his MFA in Performance from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

 ​4/29/21 | Registration Now Open for Creative Root Summer Theatre Camp

​​The Theatre School at DePaul University is pleased to announce the Creative Root summer theatre camp schedule for students ages 6-14.

The Creative Root summer theatre camp experiences offer a socially-distanced in-person option or a virtual option, with classes presented via Zoom. Class sizes will be limited to 12 students for in-person classes and 16 students for virtual classes. All in-person classes will be held at The Theatre School in both indoor and outdoor locations. DePaul University COVID-19 guidelines will be followed, including the required use of face masks and appropriate social distancing measures.

In the first week of each session, students will begin adapting stories based around The Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan. During this time students will also work on building an ensemble through theatre games and exercises. The second week provides the opportunity to work with props, costumes, and other design elements to build the world of the play while rehearsing their work. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, no in-person performances will take place. All projects will be recorded and shared with families at the conclusion of each camp session.

The in-person summer theatre camp runs Monday-Friday from 9:15 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. CST. Students are split into two age groups for the experience and the total cost is $650. Virtual sessions take place from 10:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. CST and cost $325. Save money by registering early! Any registration before June 1 will qualify for an Early Bird discount.

Visit for registration and more information.

Summer Session One: OZ! Virtual: July 5-16 | In-Person: July 6-16
"Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!" Grab onto the tail of a twister this summer and let it whisk you away to one of literature’s most wonderous places - The Land of Oz! Campers will trek down the yellow brick road, from Munchkinland to the Emerald City, embodying some of L. Frank Baum’s most beloved characters!

Summer Session Two: NEVERLAND! Virtual & In-Person: July 19-30
Take the second star to the right and head straight until morning and you’ll land on the isle of  Never Never Land where the boundaries of imagination don’t exist, and adventures are never far between. As campers trek from the Maze of Regrets to the Croc’s Grotto, they'll create new stories inspired by J.M. Barrie’s most famous characters, from Peter and the Lost Boys to Hook and Tinkerbell - or even make up new ones along the way!

4/6/21 Deadline Extended for Submissions for the Cunningham Commission for Youth Theatre

The Theatre School at DePaul University is pleased to announce that submissions are now being
Student reading a script
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 has been extended to May 1, 2021.

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.

 Chicago Playworks is dedicated to reflecting our audience's experience in an urban, contemporary, and multi-ethnic environment. Each season has three productions that are attended by over 30,000 young people and their families. Target audience age varies for each individual show, with a primary interest in serving grades four through seven.  Past recipients include Ike Holter, Isaac Gomez, Caro Macon, Gloria Bond Clunie, and Ricardo Gamboa.

 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 2021: Winner announcement and contract signing.
• December 1, 2021: First draft due (payment upon delivery).
 January 15, 2022: Notes from Theatre School committee delivered to playwright.
• April 1, 2022: Second draft due (payment upon delivery).
 May 15, 2022: Notes from Theatre School committee delivered to playwright.
 September 1, 2022: 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 and questions to:​

12/15/20 | Dr. John Ransford Watts Passes at Age of 90
                     Former dean of The Theatre School was instrumental in move 
 of Goodman School of Drama to DePaul University.

Dr. John Ransford Watts, dean of The Theatre School at DePaul University from 1979 to 1999, died December 14 in Mundelein, IL. He was 90 years old. 

John Ransford Watts in the Merle Reskin Theatre.
John Ransford Watts at the Merle Reskin Theatre in 1999. (Photo by Bob Drea)

Watts, a teacher, designer, director, and scholar, was recruited as dean and charged with reestablishing the famed Goodman School of Drama after its move to DePaul University from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1978. Over the next 20 years, Watts reshaped The Theatre School at DePaul into one of the premiere conservatory theatre training programs in the country. 

“Watts’ work to secure the position of the school within DePaul, attract high-quality staff and faculty, and develop a sophisticated curriculum made top 10 conservatory rankings, our new facilities, and amazing alumni accomplishments possible,” explained current Theatre School Dean John Culbert. 

Many of the programs and activities Watts put in place have become traditions at The Theatre School: regional auditions, annual touring graduate showcases, and discussions with visiting artists. He also started the Annual Awards for Excellence in the Arts gala in 1989, which has generated more than $7 million for scholarships to date. 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.

Watts maintained a distinguished and productive association with the performing arts, humanities, and higher education in Massachusetts, California, and Illinois. He earned 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 completed post-graduate work at Harvard, UCLA, and Oxford. For 15 years he served on the faculty of the School for the Arts at Boston University as Professor of Theatre, and for five years as associate dean. As a designer he created the lighting for the world premiere of Leonard Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti at Brandeis University. He served as head of the Boston Arts Festival and was the chairman of the Massachusetts Council on the Arts and Humanities for four years. He was also the founding head of the Boston University Tanglewood Institute (1965-1969), the first multi-arts partnership of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and a university.

Former dean of The Theatre School, John Ransford Watts, right, cuts the ribbon at the dedication of the 1986 school location on Kenmore Avenue.
Former dean of The Theatre School, John Ransford Watts, right, cuts the ribbon at the dedication of the 1986 school location on Kenmore Avenue. Joining in the ceremonies are Rea Warg, left, retired Goodman School of Drama dean; Renee Liepins, student speaker; Bella "Dr. Bella" Itkin, professor; David Gooder, chairman of The Theatre School Advisory Committee; and the Rev. John T. Richardson, C.M., the 9th president of DePaul. (DePaul University photo)

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 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 the Via Sapientiae Award from DePaul University, its highest recognition for excellent service and accomplishment.

John and Joyce Watts were recognized in June 2018 in a naming ceremony of the Dr. John R. and Joyce L. Watts Theatre, a 250-seat thrust theatre located on the first floor of The Theatre School’s artistic home on the Lincoln Park campus. The Watts’ family also generously endowed a scholarship supporting students in the playwriting program in 2006.

“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,” said John Culbert. “His legacy will live on through the students, faculty, and staff who would not be here today without his vision for the school.”

John Ransford Watts and Joyce L. Watts
John Ransford Watts and Joyce L. Watts in 1998. (Photo by Jennifer Girard)

John is survived by his wife of 45 years, Joyce L. Watts, and his son, David A. Watts (Nancy).

The family suggests contributions in John’s memory be made to the John R. and Joyce L. Watts Endowed Scholarship Fund, administered by The Theatre School at DePaul University, Office of Advancement, PO Box 6740, Carol Stream, IL 60197-6740.

​​Ricardo Gamboa Awarded the Cunningham Commission for Youth Theatre

The Theatre School at DePaul University is pleased to announce that Ricardo Gamboa has been
Ricardo Gambo Awarded the 2020 Cunningham Commission for Youth Theatre
Ricardo Gamboa
awarded the 2020 Cunningham Commission for Youth Theatre. Gamboa is a Chicago native who has dedicated their career to devising and writing plays that focus on the experiences of the city's working-class communities and youth of color. They are a member of Free Street Theater, an alumnus of the Goodman Theatre Playwrights Unit, a resident playwright with Chicago Dramatists, and the founding adult creative partner of the politically charged ensemble The Young Fugitives. Gamboa is the recipient of a Joyce Award and an International Connections Award from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

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. Playwrights from the Chicagoland area and alumni of The Theatre School are eligible to apply each year.

“The stated purpose of the commission is to encourage plays for young audiences that affirm the centrality of religion, broadly defined, and the human quest for meaning, truth, and community," Gamboa said. “So, much of what we know is that oppression works by chipping away at our spirit, our sense of possibility, and of our own potential. The systems that we live in whether it be colonialism, capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy or whatever want this, they want us to feel disoriented, insignificant and alone. For my entire career, my theatrical output has been dedicated to making theater that centers and that is created by, with, and for Chicago's communities of color. I have always viewed theater for us as theater that must be restorative and give us some of the feelings that are robbed from in our oppression: feelings of belonging, of being worthy of better, of deserving of understanding, and of being able to imagine alternative futures for ourselves," they said.

Through the Cunningham Commission, Gamboa will be writing a play that is tentatively titled The Resisters. The play will explore themes of friendship, collective power, and the potential of art to transform our circumstances. Gamboa will develop The Resisters over the next year with input from the Cunningham Commission Selection Committee which includes Theatre School faculty members Michelle Lopez-Rios, Jeff Mills, Coya Paz, and Committee Chair Phil Timberlake.

“This play will speak to the realities of our time and to the power of community and art," Timberlake said. “It will engage with issues of activism, struggle, and friendship. The purpose of the Cunningham Commission is to support encourage work for young audiences that illuminate the human quest for meaning, truth, and community. Ricardo Gamboa and The Resisters fit the bill perfectly."

The Theatre School intends to produce the plays created through this commission in its award-winning Chicago Playworks for Families and Young Audiences series. Chicago Playworks has welcomed 1,523,850 audience members since it began in 1925.

“I grew up in Chicago," Gamboa said. “So often, I felt the theater I saw at school assemblies and field trips was not reflective of my reality. Later, as a theater artist committed to making work for young audiences and as a theater educator working with theaters across Chicago, I found this was still the reality. Chicago youth of color and their stories and lives were not reflected in theater for youth in Chicago that usually opted for productions of 'classics' or adaptations of books on the reading lists of standardized education. I wanted to propose a play that was accessible, relatable, and wholly reflective of what it means to grow up in Chicago."

9/21/20 | Roger Guenveur Smith presents new work Otto Frank | 7:00 PM Central

Otto Frank Performance
Sold-out performance. 

For two years, the Franks improvised a home above the family business in Amsterdam, before their arrest, separation, and removal to Nazi death camps. Otto Frank miraculously escaped a firing squad at Auschwitz and returned to Amsterdam to learn of the murder of his wife and their two daughters. What remained was a diary, initially intended as a modest birthday gift to Anne from her father. The surviving Frank passionately pursued the publication, translation, and adaptation of Anne's journal. It is now, with the exception of the Bible, the most read non-fiction book in the world. But less known is the story of Otto.  

This event was co-sponsored by DePaul University's Theatre School, Center for Black Diaspora and Jewish Life, and was made possible by generous support from the Vincentian Endowment Fund. 

Roger Guenveur Smith headshot
Roger Guenveur Smith is an internationally acclaimed actor, writer, and director who has created a prolific body of work on stage and screen. He adapted his Obie Award-winning solo performance of A Huey P. Newton Story into a Peabody Award-winning telefilm and his Bessie Award-winning Rodney King is currently streaming on Netflix.  Also among his work for the international stage are studies of Frederick Douglass and Christopher Columbus, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley, iconoclast artists Jean-Michel Basquiat, Simon Rodia, and Charles White, and baseball greats Juan Marichal and John Roseboro.

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