The Gillings gift to PlayMakers and the department of dramatic art will enable PlayMakers to expand its vital education and outreach programs, including the Mobile Shakespeare initiative. (photo by Kristen Chavez)

PlayMakers Repertory Company and the department of dramatic art at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have received a $12 million gift to significantly increase the University’s performing arts programming by expanding educational opportunities for students and enhancing performance and outreach offerings available to the community.

The endowment, from longtime arts patron Joan H. Gillings, is the largest single gift by a living individual to benefit the performing arts at Carolina. In honor of her transformational gift, the Center for Dramatic Art, home to the department of dramatic art and PlayMakers, will be named the Joan H. Gillings Center for Dramatic Art.

“We are incredibly grateful to Joan for her extraordinary gift that builds upon Carolina’s century-old dramatic arts tradition of educating students, thrilling audiences and inspiring communities,” said Chancellor Carol L. Folt. “Joan’s tireless support of Carolina excellence ranges from global public health to exploration of the heavens. This wonderful gift will create innovative and exciting educational, performance and outreach opportunities for our PlayMakers Repertory Company and nationally recognized department of dramatic art. It also supports our Arts Everywhere initiative, taking our existing strengths in dramatic arts to an even higher level by unleashing creativity and opening minds.”

Gillings’ commitment will enable the department to recruit and retain top graduate students by funding additional scholarships in acting, costume production and technical production annually. It will also expand PlayMakers’ vital education and outreach programs, including the Mobile Shakespeare initiative, and its K-12 educational matinee and teaching artist residency programs. In addition, the gift will foster the development of new plays to engage the University and national theater community with innovative and socially conscious work.

“I acquired a love of theater while attending plays on Broadway and in London’s West End. I have been proud to serve on the Friends of PlayMakers Advisory Council since 2008, and as its chair since 2013., The high quality of PlayMakers productions, including the work of the graduate students, has inspired me to make this gift,” said Gillings. “The future of theater is in the hands of our students. I am excited about what the future holds for them.”

Established in 1925, the department of dramatic art is the second-oldest theater department in the country, and PlayMakers Repertory Company recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. Gillings’ gift creates a foundation for the future that will continue Carolina’s century-old tradition of educating students and inspiring the community through live theater.

“This wonderful gift provides us with a historic opportunity to take our work to the next level — as scholars and artists, teachers and theater practitioners,” said Adam Versényi, chair of the department of dramatic art. “Joan’s incredible generosity will enable us to attract and, most importantly, support, the best graduate students and faculty. These are the individuals who enhance our undergraduate students’ learning experience as well as our audiences’ experience of the highest possible artistry.”

PlayMakers is the University’s professional theater in residence and is part of the department of dramatic art in the College of Arts & Sciences. The theater is a living laboratory where professional actors, costumers and technicians, many of whom also teach in the department, work closely with graduate students in the nationally recognized MFA programs in acting, costume production and technical production.

“This gift is such a significant demonstration of Joan’s belief in the transformational impact that theater has,” said Vivienne Benesch, producing artistic director for PlayMakers. “It is a huge vote of confidence for the role that PlayMakers has here at Carolina and on the national theater landscape.”

Previous philanthropy by Gillings to the University includes UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, Carolina Performing Arts and UNC Children’s Hospital. In 2011, she was awarded the William Richardson Davie Award, the highest honor bestowed by the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees, for extraordinary service to Carolina.

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