New USC School of Dramatic Arts Building: Andrew T. Guzman, Emily Roxworthy, Carol Folt and Elizabeth M. Daley

Provost Andrew T. Guzman, Dean Emily Roxworthy of the USC School of Dramatic Arts, USC President Carol Folt and Dean Elizabeth M. Daley of the USC School of Cinematic Arts celebrate the historic event. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)


‘A top training ground’: USC School of Dramatic Arts gets a new home at ribbon-cutting ceremony

The revamped building features two theaters, recording studios and other state-of-the-art facilities.

March 29, 2024 By Grayson Schmidt

For the first time in its nearly 80-year history, the USC School of Dramatic Arts has a home. A historic structure on the University Park Campus that was once a church — built nearly 100 years ago — on Thursday officially became USC’s Dramatic Arts Building after a two-year process.

“With this new Dramatic Arts Building now open, USC has incredible momentum to make SDA the top drama school in the nation with a space that enables collaboration, innovation and cutting-edge creativity,” Emily Roxworthy, dean of the School of Dramatic Arts, said at an afternoon ribbon-cutting event for the building.

Trojans present and past gathered near the steps of the building, which is now part of the university’s “arts corridor” along 34th Street — complementing the USC Thornton School of Music, the USC Kaufman School of Dance and the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

“This home will be the staging ground for the next chapter of our exciting evolution as a drama school that teaches students how to harness the superpowers of storytelling for stage and screen to create positive social change and move the global entertainment industry forward,” Roxworthy said.

USC President Carol Folt spoke of how the new building serves as an example of the importance of the dramatic arts in education.

“I believe that dramatic performance is truly one of the greatest educators of all humankind — it needs to be in our universities, it needs to be part of our education, and we need to enliven and allow everyone to have a piece of it,” Folt said. “SDA has been teaching the next generation of performers for more than three quarters of a century, and I am so honored that we now have this perfect and historically accurate and appropriate new home for a world-renowned, conservatory-level school in the heart of our campus.”

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New USC School of Dramatic Arts building: Keeping the old and embracing the new

Though a point was made to retain the 1930s-style architecture — complete with stone engravings, spiral columns and stained-glass windows — the inside has been completely redone for the modern age. Students now have access to a professional development center where they can record auditions and collaborate with peers, while being in the same building as state-of-the art sound stages, recording studios and dressing rooms. Along with those improvements, the building also features two new theaters: the Sanctuary Theatre and the Stop Gap Theatre — the latter named after a former streetcar station at the south edge of campus that was converted into one of the department’s first theater spaces in 1948.

“This building is filled with all the things the SDA needs to be the top training ground for acting, for writing, for theatrical design, production and critical studies,” Folt said. “This new home gives us these inspiring, light-filled spaces to bring that all to life.”

The building also boasts the brand-new Sparks Center for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, named for current School of Dramatic Arts Professor Anita Dashiell-Sparks, who is also the school’s associate dean of DEI, and her husband, Anthony Sparks.

In addition to the DEI center, the entire building was redesigned with sustainability in mind — another major step in bringing it into the current era. The university reduced the carbon footprint of the project by adaptively reusing the building rather than constructing a new one. By modifying some of the distinguishing features that were already in place, the building’s construction highlights USC’s ongoing commitment to sustainability. Sustainable modifications include retrofitting the stained glass windows with a second pane to trap in heat or cold air, converting the HVAC system to all-electric and reducing water usage by 35%.

Trojan star power turns out to celebrate new USC School of Dramatic Arts building

Actor and current USC student Storm Reid spoke about what having a home base for the dramatic arts means for students.

“When I’m away from campus, I feel a burning desire to be here,” said Reid, who recently won an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for her role in the television series The Last of Us. “This new building represents more than just a physical space — it symbolizes our growth, aspirations and the legacy that we’re building as the inaugural generation of artists to learn and create here.”

Actor and USC alumna Troian Bellisario said the building and the facilities inside will put students in the right position to succeed.

“The resources within these walls will provide a whole new generation of artists a fighting chance in this challenging and ever-shifting industry,” the Pretty Little Liars star and 2009 graduate said. “In this building, and the programs that are facilitated within it, they are going to ensure that no one is left just jumping off and hoping for luck.”

If the University Park Campus has gone through its share of changes since Bellisario graduated 15 years ago, then it might be almost unrecognizable to LeVar Burton. Known for his roles in Roots and Star Trek: The Next Generation as well as the host of beloved children’s show Reading Rainbow, Burton was first discovered during a performance of Oklahoma! during his sophomore year at USC in 1974.

“My career began here on this hallowed ground,” Burton said as he took in his surroundings. “I came here from Sacramento, Calif., with a dream in my heart and a song on my lips, and this place nurtured and supported and encouraged me.”

Opportunities for the next generation of artists

USC has been producing the best performers, writers, designers and directors for nearly 80 years. According to Reid, the school’s new home shows that the university recognizes that.

“It’s a testament to our shared commitment to excellence in dramatic arts,” Reid said. “The support fuels our passion and dedication to the arts, and for that we are so profoundly grateful. Let’s continue to learn, inspire and create together in this new home that we call the SDA community.”

Though students, faculty and staff have only had access to the building for a little over a month, no time has been wasted in utilizing the space. The first performance is scheduled for early next month — Chavez Ravine: An L.A. Ghost Story will run from April 12-21 in the Sanctuary Theatre.

For Burton, seeing the building already in motion sparks joy and pride. He told the crowd Thursday that USC will always be a special place to him, and this new home of the USC School of Dramatic Arts will help foster the next generation of artists and performers who can continue to inspire the world.

“It is no small feat [to have this building] especially given our proximity to Hollywood, Calif., where we make up the stories for the planet,” Burton said. “Storytelling, I like to say, is the currency of human interaction, and here is where we learn the skill sets and the confidence to take the risks and use our imaginations to tell the stories that people need.”