Inspiring Spaces: The Dorans put the spotlight on production students

The Dorans, Robin and Justin, have helped ensure a better future for production students at the USC School of Dramatic Arts.

The Dorans, Robin and Justin, have helped ensure a better future for production students at the USC School of Dramatic Arts.

Theatre has always been important to the Doran family, but, before now, their passions were mainly about what was happening onstage. Justin Doran pursued an MFA in Acting at UCLA and works in arts education, not-for-profit arts, and theatre construction, and the oldest Doran child is an actor. As the Dorans decided to donate and dedicate a space in the new home of the School of Dramatic Arts, they shifted the spotlight backstage, thanks to their son, Jackson, a current production student, focusing on Technical Direction.

“A lot of these folks [onstage] get applause,” Justin said. “Production staff in particular are often times unseen but the most important people on the creative team.” He said he and his wife wanted to cultivate a space to elevate and honor the contributions of production students. 

Opening soon, the newly remodeled building will feature everything from classrooms to faculty office spaces to a cabaret-style performance venue. The Dorans are excited to name the building’s new Stage Management office. 

“I appreciate stage managers,” Robin said. “[They are] people who can keep it going, keep people organized…I am really impressed that someone can call a show.” 

But the building offers more than just a new physical space and technological advancements, “It’s not about the building,” Robin said. “But it is about what it can do for [School of Dramatic Arts] students and…the ability for them to get the greater community excited about their community as well.” 

Justin agrees, adding that the presence of a school’s edifice on campus highlights where the university’s priorities lie. “Theatre, in particular, is so important because it houses the stories of the University and carries the culture,” he said. “It demands that the community shows up and participates in active ways.” 

University culture is essential to Robin in particular, as she worked as an Admissions counselor at USC for five years. The new building will alleviate some of the concerns Doran and some other families may have experienced touring SDA before—like having easier access to faculty and updated performance spaces. 

Even without the new SDA building, the Dorans have experienced firsthand the power of faculty and student connection. Jackson was in a class with Associate Professor of Scenic Design and Chair of Design Takeshi Kata, who checked in on him when he struggled during his freshman year. 

“The fact that he reached out to him really made a difference,” Robin said. She said it was incredibly heartening for an undergraduate student to receive such personalized attention from a professor, especially one with such a prolific and ongoing career. 

Justin feels that this attitude is shared across the entire school, especially under School of Dramatic Arts Dean Emily Roxworthy. “I love her multihyphenate push to make sure students are thinking about all the ways that they can approach their craft.” 

They both hope that, by unifying the school under one roof, these meaningful interactions can continue and be strengthened. 

As the building prepares to open, the Dorans are excited for students to further engage with the rich opportunities a theater education provides. “An education in theatre, in storytelling, in the arts prepares you for whatever it is you want to do in the future [and] makes you a more compassionate, empathetic, understanding person who sees the world in a more open-minded way,” Justin said. “The fact that we’re trying to bring as many people as possible into the work of SDA, I think that will go towards what our community and society will look like as they leave college.”