Renovations Bring New Life to Campus

Tuesday, Dec 12, 2023
Juilliard Journal
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Image of the interior of the newly renovated space showing a dressing room with mirrors, sinks, seating area, and lockers
The new Drama Commons

Drama Renovations—A Decade-Long Journey

By Annie Abramczyk

September marked the beginning of a new era for the Drama Division with the unveiling of extensive renovations of its spaces. First contemplated by James Houghton—who was director of the division from 2006 until his death, in 2016—the renovations were completed under the leadership of Richard Rodgers Dean and Director Evan Yionoulis and thanks to the generous donation of Katheryn C. Patterson, trustee emerita.

The renovation, spearheaded by architectural firm FXCollaborative, took care to preserve the spirit of the division’s spaces while also modernizing them. “One of the reasons we chose FXCollaborative was because of the firm’s understanding that our studios are meant to be clean canvases for the imagination,” Yionoulis said. And as this was the first major renovation since the building opened, in 1969, “we wanted something that was classic and would age well into the future, focusing on openness and light.”

Sustainability, Inclusivity, and Creativity

Within the remodel, the division acquired a new studio space and two new dressing rooms for productions in the Stephanie P. McClelland Drama Theater. Studio updates include new floors, adjustable window shades, accessible doorways, and sustainable lighting that optimizes visibility and reduces the building’s carbon footprint. The renovations mark a new era of sustainability, inclusivity, and creativity, continuing Juilliard’s legacy in setting a precedent for the future of arts education.

“At Juilliard, it’s not only about the amazing teachers and curriculum. It’s [also] the great studios, showers, and new pantry. When you feel taken care of, everything can be about the work,” said fourth-year actor Jonny James Kajoba. “Putting money into its curriculum and infrastructure says a lot about Juilliard’s attention to detail.”

In addition to the studio improvements, the renovation focuses on the well-being of individuals by fostering a sense of community, featuring a divisional pantry and library, hallway seating, and all-gender dressing rooms. The third-floor dressing rooms, inspired by professional industry spaces, are complete with new lockers, private changing rooms, showers and toilets with floor-to-ceiling doors, two company rooms with desks for individual study and makeup, and a communal lounge.

One goal of eliminating gender and group divisions was to encourage conversation and collaboration between all acting students. Second-year actor Nora Pantoja told the Journal that the improvements “create an inclusive culture.” Noting that Drama is a place “where all are welcome,” she added that the improvements “will have a tremendously beautiful impact on people of all identities.”

“Building community is dependent on accidental collisions, which is something Jim Houghton referred to frequently and is the inspiration for the design of the Signature Theatre, which he founded,” Yionoulis said. “By having common gathering places, we can foster more informal connections between the faculty, staff, playwrights, and acting students from all classes.”

These improvements move the division forward in ways that extend beyond the physical space. “In the Drama Division, community is everything,” said teaching artist Jasminn Johnson (Group 45). “There’s something quite beautiful about participating in this epic history. When I first saw the renovation, I was so emotional. The space is pristine. They thought about everything. I think it will do wonders for the students, especially their wellness.”

Kajoba agrees: “The renovation makes me feel hopeful for future generations of people coming to Juilliard; they’re here not just for the name but for the place as a whole.”

Annie Abramczyk is the artistic programs assistant of the Drama Division