A $10 million commitment from UCLA alumna Elizabeth Reiko Kubota Whitney and Kenneth Whitney will support the revitalization of the historic Ralph Freud Playhouse at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television.
Their support will go toward the construction of a compelling 21st century space that will enable students, faculty, staff, visiting artists and scholars from around the world to conceive and execute performances and experiences at the highest levels of excellence, from classic theater to immersive virtual reality and other digital productions.
The Whitneys are providing a catalyst for the film and television school’s capital campaign and for renovation of the Freud (pronounced “frood”). The remodeling is scheduled to be complete in 2024, when the facility will be renamed the Whitney Family Theater in the Ralph Freud Playhouse. The upgrades will advance the venue’s position as a premier destination for theater and performance art at UCLA and for the city of Los Angeles.
“I have had the honor of knowing Liz and Ken Whitney and their wonderful family for 10 years. Becoming their friend is one of the most cherished gifts I have had as dean,” said Teri Schwartz, dean of the School of Theater, Film and Television, one of the world’s most prominent academic institutions for entertainment and performing arts education. “To have received this transformational support from the Whitney Family for our Centennial Campaign and the iconic Freud Playhouse speaks volumes of their profound generosity, inherent goodness and belief in the power of an entertainment and performing arts education, one that nurtures and develops artists and scholars who will not only delight and entertain, but will enlighten and inspire change for a better world.
“We will be forever grateful to Liz and Ken for their vision, and for establishing a magnificent legacy in support of UCLA TFT. Our amazing students will be the beneficiaries of their incredible philanthropy long into the future.”
Conceptualized by innovative architecture firm Clive Wilkinson Architects, the Whitney Family Theater in the Ralph Freud Playhouse will feature a redesigned interior that more aligns with how theater is presented and experienced today. The approximately 500-seat theater will offer a more intimate seating configuration and relationship to the stage, a new balcony and an inviting lobby created to host receptions.
Lighting and sound booths will be updated with cutting-edge technology that supports staged performances, conferences and live events as well as augmented reality, virtual reality and other digital productions. A state-of-the-art lighting grid and sound equipment will be installed, and reconfigured green rooms, dressing, hair and makeup rooms will further transform the space.
“Several years ago, Ken and I decided to focus our charitable giving to programs supporting minority and underprivileged children, education, athletics and the arts,” said Liz Whitney, who earned a bachelor’s degree in 1980 from the UCLA College of Fine Arts (now the School of Theater, Film and Television). “We have been inspired by Dean Teri Schwartz with her vision and leadership for UCLA TFT and its future. It is an honor and privilege to make this gift toward the update and redesign of the Ralph Freud Playhouse.
“This gift to UCLA is particularly special to me, as the years I spent in school here had an enormous impact on my life and career. Our hope is that this project will impact the lives and careers of the next generation of students in UCLA TFT programs.”
Liz Whitney is a Tony Award-winning producer (“Fun Home,” “Network”) and former actress whose resume includes roles in many popular 1980s television shows, such as “MacGyver” and “T.J. Hooker.” She was also a cast member of the acclaimed 1982 Mark Taper Forum production of “August 6, 1945,” about the bombing of Hiroshima. She has long been a champion of UCLA TFT. In 2010, in honor of her late sister, Jeanne, she established the Jeanne Michiko Kubota Memorial Scholarship Fund, which provides full four-year scholarships for deserving undergraduate theater students in need.
Kenneth Whitney manages a private family investment office focused on startup businesses and entertainment projects. He was previously a senior managing director and head of Blackstone’s investor relations and business development group. He is a Tony Award-winning producer and currently sits on the board of trustees for The First Tee and the University of Delaware, his alma mater.
The iconic Ralph Freud Playhouse has been the vital, creative hub of the UCLA TFT department of theater and much of the UCLA campus for more than 50 years. It offers a fully dynamic learning and performance space for students, faculty and staff, as well as national and international theater companies. It was built in 1962 and was named in 1969 for Ralph Freud, the founder of the UCLA department of theater arts. The Freud has a rich history of hosting world-renowned companies including Disney; The Olympic Arts Festival; The Wooster Group; The Berliner Ensemble; The Royal Court Theatre; and Suzuki Company of Toga, Japan.
It also was the home of UCLA alumnus Francis Ford Coppola’s American Zoetrope studio, which, in collaboration with the school, created “Distant Vision,” an experimental live cinema project involving more than 100 students, faculty and staff in various production and acting roles.