Department for dramatic art and PlayMakers Repertory Company receives largest single donation

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PlayMakers' Repertory Company in their production of "My Fair Lady" this April. Photo taken by Ken Huth, courtesy of Rosalie Preston

The Department of Dramatic Art and the PlayMakers Repertory Company are celebrating their rich history and looking to their future thanks to the largest gift from a living donor in UNC performing arts history.  

Joan H. Gillings, noted Chapel Hill philanthropist and recipient of the William Richardson Davie Award, generously donated $12 million dollars to the department of the dramatic arts and the PlayMakers Repertory Company. The gift has been hailed as “transformative” by many at the University because it will open many doors for the arts at Chapel Hill.  

A reception was held in honor of Gillings and her gift, where faculty gave a brief overview of how they plan to honor the history of the arts at Carolina and expand the program. 

The reception commenced with an introduction from Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Kevin Guskiewicz and Chancellor Carol Folt who both spoke on how PlayMakers and the arts at UNC have an impact on the University and the community. 

Folt detailed the deep history of the PlayMakers theatre and the rich tradition of excellence in the arts departments. She noted the original PlayMakers Company that toured the state performing the works of Thomas Wolfe and other student writers. 

The theater department is the second oldest in the country. Since its establishment in 1918, it has remained dedicated to supporting student artists and performers. 

Folt also said that the gift enables Arts Everywhere to have a greater impact on the community. 

“We see arts help us in so many ways," Folt said, "to speak to our souls, challenge our minds and heal our hearts.”

Vivienne Benesch, the producing artistic director for PlayMakers, took the stage to lay out plans for the Company enabled by the donation and to thank Gillings for propelling them forward into the decades to come. 

Benesch plans for PlayMakers to use the funds to stabilize their educational programs, as funding had previously been unpredictable. The program also emphasizes new works, which has been a tradition at Chapel Hill since Thomas Wolfe attended the university.  

"Since I arrived here 18 months ago, I have been dreaming and scheming about a mobile touring program that goes, just like the Carolina PlayMakers did one hundred years ago, across the state of North Carolina, to connect with culturally under-resourced communities,” Benesch said.   

"The gift will enable the company to bring in more professionals," Benesch said, "and engage the university, region and national theater community with exciting, innovative and socially conscious work.”  

Department of Dramatic Arts Chair Adam Versényi laid out plans for the department to continue its teaching focus. Versényi explained that the gift allows the support of pedagogy and audience engagement by hiring more professionals, and allows the department to take their craft to the next level. 

“The Joan H. Gillings Center for Dramatic Art, with its excellent educational and artistic facilities, is the crucible in which the department and PlayMakers transform learning into practice every single day, creating world-class educational and theatrical experiences for students, faculty and audiences,” Versényi said.  

Folt then announced that the Performing Arts Center will be rechristened as the Joan H. Gillings Performing Arts Center, and invited Gillings herself to take the stage. 

Gillings thanked her family and spoke of how Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina and the arts departments have a special place in her heart. She emphasized the opportunities provided to the students, that many would not have otherwise. 

The graduate students and professionals of PlayMakers thanked their patron, serenading her with a rousing rendition of Cole Porter’s “You’re the Top,” arranged especially for Gillings.

Gillings has long been a generous donor throughout the university, from the Gillings School of Global Public Health, to UNC Hospitals and to the “heavens,” as Folt puts it, with gifts to the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center.  

“It’s for the kids, it’s for the students, they are all our future,” Gillings said.

@CarLynn_H

arts@dailytarheel.com

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