Performing to Learn- Theatre School at DePaul University in Chicago

Twitter is a powerful tool when a chance happening becomes a learning reality. Sitting in Hong Kong airport I stumbled upon a tweet from a colleague referencing the new Theatre School at DePaul University in Chicago. The article from the Chicago Tribune drew attention to the opening of this facility only a week prior to me visiting. My current interest in understanding how performing arts facilities in secondary schools should be primarily learning environments and not mere status symbols sparked my interest in this new Faculty building.


A quickly composed email of introduction followed by an even quicker response from the Director of Marketing, Anna Ables, allowed me to visit with them for 90 minutes together with an informative meeting with the Faculty Dean, John Cuthbert.


The building is a departure from the predominantly red brick aesthetic at the Fullerton campus, in the north of Chicago. However, the use of limestone in the established buildings became a driver for the Theatre School located prominently on a corner of the urban based campus.


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The design was the result of a competition, with the successful architects, Pelli Clarke Pelli, securing the commission based on their conceptual approach of exploring how the building would interact with the community.


This approach built on relationships between those who teach and learn within the building and the wider community's involvement in supporting the School through attending performances and financial contributions. It also seeks to celebrate the teaching and learning by ensuring the community are drawn into proximity with the various studios, workshops and faculty offices in their attendances. This approach reinforces the building's purpose and informs the visitor in a vibrant and active context.


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Every rehearsal studio is different, in size and proportion. The Theatre School is actively involved with a number of theaters across Chicago so the cue for establishing the suite of studios reflects the performance stage areas of the facilities used. The nature of a 'theatre school' encompasses everything involved in theatre production. From script writing to costume design, choreography to set construction, acting to technical production - all these facets of a theater are included in this Faculty building. It does make a case for an inclusive curriculum approach in secondary schools where textiles, design & technology, materials workshops, visual arts and the performing arts all coexist with each other in an integrated and project based relationship. The possibilities for secondary schools to explore this sort of cross curriculum approach could be a powerful asset in a students development and in seeking their passion in life.


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Learning environments are all around us, whether contained within traditional forms, exemplary museums and galleries, science and technology centers, or in the context of performing arts buildings. The Theatre School is currently presenting its first production at its new home, Thornton Wilder's 'Our Town'. I have no doubt from the enthusiasm and excitement shown on my visit that this will be the beginning of a great new era at DePaul University.


Philip Idle Oct 2013

 

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