Yale to move forward with new dramatic arts building
Yale University has committed to developing a landmark theatrical arts building that will bring faculty, staff, students, and guest artists under one roof and further establish downtown New Haven as a lively center for education, performance, and culture.
A pivotal lead gift, along with other essential gifts, enables the long-envisioned project, known as the Dramatic Arts Building (DAB), to proceed. It will be the new home of the David Geffen School of Drama at Yale and Yale Repertory Theatre (Yale Rep). The building also will be a home for Yale’s undergraduate Program in Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies (TDPS), and will provide dedicated rehearsal space for the Yale Dramatic Association (Dramat), the university’s oldest and largest undergraduate theater group.
“These exceptional acts of generosity assure that Yale — long a premier institution for educating dramatic artists and scholars — can pursue the exciting work of designing a venue worthy of the university’s proud legacy and boundless ambitions in theater,” said President Peter Salovey. “We are grateful for the confidence that all of our donors have shown in Yale’s vision for an inspiring facility that promotes the fullest creative expression of our talented theater community, and in our faculty’s and students’ ability to offer insight, joy, and meaning through art.
“As Yale’s president and a longtime resident of New Haven, I also am pleased the new building will contribute to the city’s cultural vibrancy and economic vitality.”
Toronto-based architecture firm KPMB Architects has begun preparing an initial vision for the building, which is expected to occupy space near the existing Yale Rep, in the neighborhood of Chapel, York, and Crown streets. The university now plans to ask the firm — co-founded by Yale alumna and project architect Marianne McKenna ’76 M.Arch. — to proceed to the next phase of design. Well known for its work on cultural and arts buildings, KPMB designed Yale’s Adams Center for Musical Arts, a multi-use music complex for the full range of university students that opened in 2017.
The current vision calls for an inviting, technologically sophisticated, and environment-friendly building filled with natural light. It will include a state-of-the-art new theater and stage for Yale Rep and the Geffen School, as well as rehearsal spaces, purpose-built classrooms and offices for Geffen and TDPS faculty and staff, and areas for casual meetings. The building will also house production workshops for costumes, lighting, projections, scenery, and sound, now in various campus locations. Bringing these functions together in custom-built, proximal spaces is expected to create practical efficiencies and put performers and behind-the-scenes theater artists into close and regular contact. The Dramat will use the main stage for a major annual production.
“This new building will unite scholars and artists who have long been divided among multiple facilities,” said Provost Scott Strobel. “It will become a locus of creativity and collaboration. Faculty studying theater history will work alongside professional playwrights, who will share hallways with student designers, directors, and actors. With this project, we will integrate scholarship, education, and practice under one roof. We will empower students and faculty to boldly shape the future of the dramatic arts.”
Among the nation’s most esteemed theater conservatories, the David Geffen School of Drama is also known for being tuition-free for all degree and certificate candidates, thanks to a 2021 gift from entertainment executive and philanthropist David Geffen. The school is one of the only graduate-level professional conservatories in the world that provides training in every theater discipline: acting, design, directing, dramaturgy and dramatic criticism, playwriting, stage management, technical design and production, and theater management. It enrolls more than 230 students across nearly a dozen degree and certificate programs.
Geffen School alumni include the actors Angela Bassett ’80, ’83 M.F.A., Paul Giamatti ’89, ’94 M.F.A., Frances McDormand ’82 M.F.A., Lupita Nyong’o ’12 M.F.A., Da’Vine Joy Randolph ’11 Cert.Dr., and Meryl Streep ’75 M.F.A.; playwrights David Henry Hwang ’83 M.F.A., Tarell Alvin McCraney ’07 M.F.A., and Lynn Nottage ’89 M.F.A.; and former chair of the National Endowment for the Arts Rocco Landesman ’76 D.F.A., among other arts luminaries.
But the school — now approaching its centennial, in 2025 — is spread among numerous buildings, some nearly 100 years old and few originally designed for teaching or producing theater. Yale Rep, the highly regarded professional theater in residence at Yale University, operates out of a former church.
“This is a huge step toward aligning our facilities with the talents and aspirations of our exceptional faculty, staff, and students,” said James Bundy, the Elizabeth Parker Ware Dean of the Geffen School and Yale Rep artistic director. “It will be a place where people are excited to come to work and study, and to make and experience art. They’re going to feel a sense of purpose and aspiration, and the building will send a tangible message that reinforces Yale’s abiding commitment to artistic practice.”
As the home of the Geffen School and Yale Rep, the building will accommodate school faculty, staff, and students as well as guest artists involved in Yale Rep and school productions. Importantly, it will also integrate other Yale theater communities — the faculty and students of the undergraduate Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies program and the Yale College students involved in Dramat productions.
“Having the opportunity to share the same spaces and move through the same hallways as other members of Yale’s dramatic arts community will be energizing and heartening to everyone,” said Shaminda Amarakoon, a professor in the practice and chair of the technical design and production program at the Geffen School and director of production for Yale Rep. “Often we are siloed in our own projects and don’t have the chance to observe and appreciate the work that our colleagues are doing until they get to the stage for public performance. Now we’ll get to experience these projects while they’re still in process.”
Theatrical endeavor permeates Yale. In addition to the productions of the Geffen School and Yale Rep, the Dramat — founded in 1900 — annually stages a series of major shows. Including senior projects and other undergraduate productions, there are more than 200 in Yale College each year. More than a thousand Yale undergraduates participate in theater-making.
“You could attend a theatrical performance at Yale five times a week and never even begin to see everything possible,” said Emily Bakemeier, Yale’s vice provost for arts and faculty affairs, who is helping lead planning for the Dramatic Arts Building. “This project is going to be transformative for Yale’s scholars and teachers and legion of theater-makers, who will be united for the first time. They’re bursting with talent and energy, and we’re excited for them to have exactly the right kind, quality, and mix of spaces, technologies, and adjacencies to make the very most of it.”
The building will put these theater artists — undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, established professionals, and scholars and teachers — into frequent contact, sometimes purposefully, sometimes through happy coincidence.
“We’re already seen as one of the most serious places to do theater as an undergraduate,” said Yale College Dean Pericles Lewis. “This will further enrich the Yale College experience. Faculty from the Geffen School regularly teach our undergraduates, and this will lead to new learning opportunities and more interaction with professional theater artists.”
As dean of Yale College, Lewis said, “one of the things I’m aiming at intellectually is continuing to strengthen the sinews connecting the College to the graduate and professional schools. The drama building, by also incorporating the Dramat and our Program in Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies, is going to serve this ambition beautifully and naturally. It’s going to create a lot of synergies.”
Just as the Dramatic Arts Building aims to unite and integrate diverse theater communities within Yale, it also aims to bring the people of Yale and New Haven into communion, university leaders said. They envision a space that naturally enables and welcomes residents of the city and region to experience the energy of artistic creation — “a space,” as Bundy put it, “that faces New Haven and is transparent to New Haven, where light and warmth and people and stories can be accessed by anybody.”