After months of deliberations and interviews, the search for a new Director of the Drama Division has entered its final phase. Jim Houghton’s legacy has had a profound effect on the goals of the committee, helping them to establish a mold for the ideal new Director. Dean Guzelimian, students, and alumni shared their thoughts on the future of the Drama Division.
Since the job was posted on the Juilliard website on September 20, 2016, the committee has been working tirelessly to whittle down the list. The initial pool consisted of those who applied to the job posting and individuals who were contacted and asked to apply, as a recommendation from faculty, staff, theater professionals, students, and alumni.
“Some of those contacted expressed interest but could not pursue the position because of professional commitments, personal and family reasons, etc.” Dean Guzelimian wrote in an email to the Drama Division earlier this month. “But many of those contacted did indeed express their desire to enter into the conversation and submitted applications.”
For the first round, the committee interviewed, via video conferencing or in person, a “manageable number” of candidates; the semi-final round involved in-person interviews in New York. Once the committee finishes with deliberations, they will invite back one to three candidates for the final round: a series of structured meetings with “faculty, staff, and representative groups of current students, as well as alumni, trustees, and other Juilliard staff members,” according to Dean Guzelimian’s email.
“It’s like callback weekend,” said Dean Guzelimian in a recent interview. “It’s for both parties to determine if this is the right fit. It’s for the candidate to say, ‘Ah, I can see this.’ And for us to say ‘Yep, that’s a fit.’”
As this is an internal appointment at Juilliard, President Polisi has been managing the process. Members of the board of trustees will weigh in at the final round; given their focus on more macro-level decisions, they will remain relatively uninvolved until that point.
Jim Houghton’s huge impact on the trajectory of the Drama Division has played an essential role in deliberations.
“Jim is such an inspiring model that everybody came in with a fairly clear view of what we want the next person to be,” said Dean Guzelimian. “I see us now evolving from what Jim has built rather than going back.”
“I think it’s an opportunity to make a strong statement.”
That evolution includes a continued commitment to diversity, new works, increased scholarships for Drama students, and renovations to the existing spaces.
“It is our wish that the new Artistic Director of the Drama Division be an educator, an active and practicing member of the theater community, with a profound dedication to the growth and development of the young actor and playwright, and a deep commitment to broadening the diversity of voices in theater and to nurturing the citizen-artist,” Dean Guzelimian wrote.
Guzelimian expanded on this description, saying that the committee was in search of someone “who understands that this is first and foremost an educational experience but it’s an educational experience constantly with a foot in the professional world.” He said the Director should also be comfortable in speaking to donors and potential funders about giving to the Drama Division, be dedicated to the playwriting program, and have demonstrated skills in fostering community.
Drama students and alumni weighed in on the search, with a particular interest in forward-thinking and culturally conscious leaders.
“Somebody who is aware of how things are changing in art,” said Brittany Bradford (Group 47), “and is trying to be on the front edge of that instead of trying to stick to some traditional mode of teaching.”
A commitment to diversifying the faculty, particularly acting teachers, emerged as a common theme among students as well. “I think a really important factor for the Director, like Jim, is somebody who can embody a lot of people from a lot of cultures, a lot of ethnicities, a lot of countries, honestly,” said Keshav Moodliar (Group 48). “It’s a statement you’re making. I think it’s an opportunity to make a strong statement.”
“I also hope, for current students, faculty, and guest artists, that the new Director will have an open-door policy, and be approachable and understanding.”
“As an alum, I’m hoping the new Director will have the same focus that Jim did in reaching out to alumni and making us feel like we are still an active part of the Juilliard family,” wrote playwriting alumna Chelsea Marcantel. “I also hope, for current students, faculty, and guest artists, that the new Director will have an open-door policy, and be approachable and understanding.”
Dean Guzelimian offered his own experience in the process: “I think, on the personal side, you know, this begins out of sadness because of the reality of coming to terms with the loss of Jim. But knowing how Jim himself was so focused on the future as we’ve gone through the process and we’ve begun to dream about what the next phase of the division can be, I think the feeling is really positive.”
For now, the names of committee members and candidates under consideration remain completely confidential. “What we’re trying to protect is that it not turn into a horse race of any sort,” said Dean Guzelimian. Given the high profile candidates involved, as well, the committee does not wish to jeopardize candidates’ current positions or alienate those who may not be right for the school at the moment.
“We’ve got some really terrific people. It’s very exciting, I have to say,” said Dean Guzelimian. “I’m very optimistic.”