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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

​​CHICAGO — The Theatre School at DePaul University announces it 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.

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.

John Ransford Watts
John Ransford Watts in 1999 inside the Merle Reskin Theatre, where he produced countless productions when he was dean and artistic director at The Theatre School at DePaul University. (Photo by Bob Drea)
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.

ohn Ransford Watts and Joyce L. Watts
John Ransford Watts and Joyce L. Watts in a 1998 photo. (DePaul University/Jennifer Girard)
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 Theatre School at DePaul University 250-seat thrust theatre
The 250-seat thrust theatre in The Theatre School at DePaul University is being renamed the Dr. John R. and Joyce L. Watts Theatre. The theatre is center stage in the 165,000 square foot artistic home of The Theatre School on DePaul’s Lincoln Park Campus. The custom-designed five-story building opened in fall 2013. (DePaul University/Jeff Carrion)
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. 

More information about the school, its faculty, programs and upcoming performances is online at


Media Contacts:
Anna Ables

Carol Hughes