The UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television said Tuesday it has received a $10 million commitment for the renovation of the 57-year-old Ralph Freud Playhouse.
The commitment comes from actress-producer and UCLA alumna Elizabeth Reiko Kubota Whitney and her husband, investor Kenneth C. Whitney, and the facility will be renamed the Whitney Family Theater in the Freud Playhouse. The venue will close in July 2022 for construction and is aiming to reopen in 2024.
Changes will include a sloping, elevated floor along with seating that’s closer to the stage, plus new lighting and sound technologies to accommodate immersive theater, digital productions and virtual- or augmented-reality works.
“For a major theater to be relevant not only today but for the future, we have to design it to accommodate both classic theater and far-ranging, cutting-edge work,” Teri Schwartz, dean of the School of Theater, Film and Television, said in an interview. “We’ve done significant exploration at the intersection of story, performance and new digital platforms and new technologies. We’re asking: ‘What is next-generation narrative? What is next-generation performance?’”
The Whitneys, she added, are “very much in alignment with our vision and mission to use the power of story, the power of entertainment and performing arts education, to delight and entertain and inspire change for a better world.”
Clive Wilkinson Architects will steer the renovation, which includes a new, more spacious lobby that’s better for receptions, Schwartz said, as well as updated dressing rooms and green rooms for students, faculty, visiting artists and touring companies.
“The Freud Playhouse is truly the other iconic space on the UCLA campus alongside Royce Hall,” said Schwartz, who is stepping down as dean on Dec. 3`1, at which point the school’s special academic senior associate dean and theater department chairman, Brian Kite, will take over as interim dean. Schwartz added that after the renovation the Freud “really will reclaim its prominent place in the city. It will become a beacon for major theater in Los Angeles.”
The funds from the Whitney family are part of a centennial campaign and “foundational gift” for the School of Theater, Film and Television’s planned building renovations.
That campaign, in turn, is part of UCLA’s larger centennial campaign, which ends Dec. 31 and has surpassed its $4.2 billion goal.
In 2018, UCLA acquired the Crest Theater on Westwood Boulevard and renamed it the UCLA Nimoy Theater in honor of late actor Leonard Nimoy, who played Mr. Spock on “Star Trek.” His widow, actress and director Susan Bay Nimoy, was the lead patron on the acquisition. That space will debut in 2021 as an intimate venue for UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance, in the School of the Arts and Architecture.
Kubota Whitney graduated in 1980 from the predecessor to UCLA’s theater, TV and film school, the UCLA College of Fine Arts. She and her husband were producers on the 2015 Tony Award winner for best musical, “Fun Home.”
The commitment, Kubota Whitney said, was inspired by Schwartz’s “leadership and vision for the school” as well as by the power of live performance.
“Theater is just so important. It can be moving and informative; it’s an outlet for people to escape from everyday problems and just be totally entertained,” Kubota Whitney said. “UCLA TFT is such a great school. It’s meant a lot to me and my life, and I’d just like to see it continue to grow and be influential to other students and other people.”