Fullterton Stage to be renamed Dr. John R. and Joyce L. Watts Theatre

The Watts at a ribbon cutting
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)
The Theatre School is 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.

In 1979, a year after DePaul acquired the ailing Goodman School of Drama, John Watts, a teacher, designer, director and scholar, was recruited as dean and charged with reestablishing the 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 his 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 says. "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."
John Ransford Watts and Joyce L. Watts
John Ransford Watts and Joyce L. Watts in 1998. (Photo by Jennifer Girard)

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 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, 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.

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.