Current and future students at Yale University’s School of Drama will no longer pay tuition, thanks to a landmark $ 150 million donation from entertainment director and philanthropist David Geffen, the university today.

The donation – the largest ever in American theater history – makes the school the only institution of its kind to eliminate tuition fees for all graduate and certified students, removing financial barriers to access .

In recognition of this gift, the Yale School of Drama is now the David Geffen School of Drama at Yale University.

David Geffen
David Geffen. Photo by Bruce Weber.

David Geffen’s visionary generosity ensures that artists of extraordinary potential from all socio-economic backgrounds will be able to cultivate their talent at Yale, ”said Yale President Peter Salovey, who shared the news with James Bundy, Dean of school. “It is exciting to think about what will be made possible by increasing access to leading theater education at the David Geffen School of Drama. Our students help stimulate creativity and innovation in all fields – during their time at Yale and after graduation. Thus, David’s transformative gift will have a ripple effect in our community and around the world. Dean Bundy and I are grateful for David’s trust in Yale through this exceptional commitment, and we hope students from all walks of life will see that teaching theater at Yale is a possibility for them.

Graduate studies in theater at Yale date back to 1925. The Geffen School is the only graduate professional conservatory in the English-speaking world to offer training in all theatrical disciplines: acting, conception, directing, dramaturgy and drama criticism. , drama writing, directing, technical design and production, and theater management. It accommodates around 200 students in 10 separate diploma and certificate programs.

Graduates from the school include actors Meryl Streep ’75 MFA, Frances McDormand ’82 MFA, Angela Bassett ’80, ’83 MFA, Paul Giamatti ’89, ’94 MFA and Lupita Nyong’o ’12 MFA; playwrights David Henry Hwang ’83, Lynn Nottage ’89 MFA and Tarell Alvin McCraney ’07 MFA; and former President of the National Endowment for the Arts Rocco Landesman ’76 DFA, among many other luminaries of the arts.

David Geffen is one of the most enterprising and influential figures in American entertainment and a philanthropist whose vigorous support advances health, education, the arts and culture, and civil liberties, among other causes. For nearly six decades, he identified and nurtured artists and creative projects that defined American culture through music, film, and theater. Founder of Asylum Records, Geffen Records and Geffen Pictures, he also co-founded the DreamWorks SKG film studio with Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg. In 2010, Geffen was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and in 2011, the Grammy Salute to Industry Icons honored him with the President’s Merit Award in recognition of his significant contributions to the music industry.

It is an honor to partner with Yale University to create the first drama school of its kind without tuition fees, ”said Geffen, who taught a course at Yale in the late 1970s. . “Yale is well known for having one of the most respected drama programs in the country. So when they approached me about this opportunity, I knew Yale was the right place to start changing the way we think about arts education funding. Yale already offers some of the best professional training available to actors, writers, directors, designers and theater directors from a variety of backgrounds. Removing the tuition fee barrier will allow a greater diversity of talented people to develop and hone their skills in front of, on and behind Yale stages. I hope this gift inspires others to support similar efforts to increase the accessibility and affordability of arts education at colleges and universities across the country.

The Geffen School of Drama will eliminate tuition fees for all graduate and certified students, starting with those enrolled for the fall semester that begins in August, and including returning students. (The school hasn’t admitted a new class for fall 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but has added a fully funded fourth year for all enrolled students.)

David Geffen’s gift will be transformative for us at school and for American theater as a whole, ”said James Bundy ’95 MFA, Elizabeth Parker Ware Dean of the school and its leader since 2002.“ Full support for Our training tuition fee will help us attract talent from the widest range of potential candidates possible, and it sends a clear message that Yale is a place where a stimulating mix of gifted students can direct their energy first and foremost to art. This will lead to a more complete representation of our company in all aspects of professional practice.

It’s a special joy that this new era dawns as stages at Yale and around the world prepare to resume live and in-person productions after a long hiatus during the pandemic: more than ever we need the power to healing and revelation of the performing arts and their special ability to transmit and celebrate the human spirit.

Like the school itself, the Yale Repertory Theater, the professional theater in residence at Yale University, has suspended live performances during the pandemic. Both will host in-person hearings again in the coming months. The new season of The Rep will include three productions, starting in January 2022 with a new production of “Today is My Birthday”, a critically acclaimed comedy about loneliness in the age of connectedness, written by playwright Susan Soon He. Stanton ’10 MFA and directed by Mina Morita.

Geffen’s gift to college continues a relationship that began over four decades ago. During the 1978-79 academic year, during a hiatus from the entertainment industry, he conducted a semester seminar at Yale titled “The Music Industry and Arts Management”. An ensemble course, it covered topics such as organization, recording, editing, production, distribution, finance and advertising.

After returning to business, Geffen put together lists of superstar artists, including John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Elton John, Peter Gabriel, Guns N ‘Roses, Nirvana, Sonic Youth and Hole; produced the films “Beetlejuice”, “Interview with the Vampire” and “Risky Business”, to name a few; and helped bring the Tony Award-winning musicals “Cats,” “Mr. Butterfly ”and“ Dreamgirls ”.

Geffen also became a prominent philanthropist. He has provided major support to the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, for example, as well as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, Lincoln Center, the AIDS Project Los Angeles, the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, Geffen Playhouse, and Arts Education Programs at Spelman and Morehouse Colleges.

His donation to Yale turns financial aid to the Geffen School of Drama in perpetuity.

President Salovey said Yale is also committed to seeking additional fundraising for projects that will further strengthen the school, including significant investments in facilities.

I’m incredibly excited for what’s to come, ”said Salovey. “We would also like to be able to build a new house for the school, including a state-of-the-art facility for theater teaching and production. I am committed to ensuring that the students David Geffen will help us attract and support have the facilities they need to fully express their creativity.

President of Dramaturgy Tarell Alvin McCraney with dramaturgy students.
President of Dramaturgy Tarell Alvin McCraney with dramaturgy students. Photo by Joan Marcus, 2019.

As Yale prepares for this work, the David Geffen School of Drama will educate the playwrights of the future.

For nearly 100 years, Yale has helped develop some of the best theater designers and cultural leaders in the world, ”said provost Scott Strobel. “Before people like Meryl Streep, Paul Newman and Lupita Nyong’o became household names, they trained on our campus and honed their craft within our passionate and supportive community. This historic commitment ensures that the drama school’s next act will build on this tradition.

A defining characteristic of great art is its ability to engage, entertain and educate large audiences. The Geffen School of Drama has a similar mission: to help us discover our world and thus improve it. This donation will strengthen this mission and the School’s commitment to equitable access so that our future drama students and scholars continue to exemplify and raise the standards of global professional practice.

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