The Spaces of the Dramatic Workshop

When the Dramatic Workshop separated from the New School, one of its main gripes was the lack of space. The records from 1943 show 20 full time students. This grew to 50 students by 1944 and 310 in 1946. Then there were the evening students – 440 in 1944, which grew steadily to 1,070 by 1947.

The Dramatic Workshop held classes in the West 12th Street building. It offered a wide range of classes, as the aim was to give a well-rounded education to theater students regarding all aspects of their craft. Some classes included acting technique, costume design, the study of current Broadway plays, dance and movement, history of American drama, international theater, lighting, make up, stagecraft, radio play production (acting, directing, writing), theater management, dramaturgy, and voice. Obviously, this was quite a lot to squeeze into the already-thriving university spaces. Aside from the amount of space needed, many of these classes required specific types of classrooms to accommodate the class: a directing classroom would need a large space, a stagecraft room might need drawing tables.

Aside from classroom needs, as a school of dramatic arts the most pressing need was for performance space. This space would need to be available for performances and rehearsals. If a show was happening, the space would need to remain untouched during that time due to sets and equipment. The Dramatic Workshop used Tishman Auditorium in 66 W. 12th St., but they found themselves constantly struggling to get that space, since it was in high demand for lectures and other large-scale university events.

It seemed clear that the Dramatic Workshop needed to secure more space outside the school. So they rented two theaters: the Presidents Theater and the Rooftop Theater. In these spaces, the Workshop seemed to thrive, as they had both studio and performance space at their disposal, and they were no longer interfering with the New School campus, where they never quite fit in, for various reasons.

The Presidents Theater was a 280-seat theater located at 247 West 48th Street. It was home to most of the Workshop’s “main stage” productions. The property also came with a smaller theater which was used for rehearsals and classes. The Rooftop Theater, known as the “Rooftop Training Center” was located at 11 East Houston Street and had a seating capacity of 1,000. The Workshop held classes there and some performances, but mostly they staged “open rehearsals” there.

In acquiring these spaces the Dramatic Workshop was able to produce more work, allow more students to enroll, and teach more classes, with adequate facilities. It worked in conjunction with the New School while maintaining off-campus facilities. Eventually the Dramatic Workshop broke ties with the school and remained active as a separate entity in these two theater spaces. Possibly the lack of adequate space — and the Workshop’s re-location outside the school — encouraged the separation.

A series of Dramatic Workshop records have been digitized as part of the New School Publicity Office records. The Dramatic Workshop course catalogs can be found here. A member of the Dramatic Workshop from the 1940s described his experience of the program here.