Updated: School of Drama & Music receives $5-million donation

School renamed the Dan School of Drama & Music

Aubrey Dan gave a speech at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts after Queen's announced that he had donated $5 million to the School of Drama & Music.
Aubrey Dan gave a speech at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts after Queen's announced that he had donated $5 million to the School of Drama & Music.

Last updated at 5:02 p.m. on April 7, 2016.

Queen’s School of Drama and Music will have a new reason to take the stage today after receiving a $5-million donation.  

Aubrey Dan, an impresario, businessman and philanthropist, provided the endowment together with his wife Marla Dan. Their daughter is a graduate of the Queen's drama program.

The department has been renamed The Dan School of Drama and Music in his honour. His donation will be invested in a slow-growth interest account as a continuous source of income for the School. 

Representatives from Queen’s and the School of Drama and Music, including interim Director Craig Walker and Queen’s Provost Alan Harrison, made the official announcement at 1:30 p.m. today. The announcement will be followed by a 7 p.m. performance at the Isabel Bader Centre to celebrate the news.


The donation comes nearly a year after the Drama and Music Departments merged following a history of collaboration and shared resources.

Sean Thornber, a Drama Departmental Student Council (DSC) representative, says the donation has been in the works for several months.

“We had a meeting with all of the Drama profs and all of the Music profs and he said I have exciting news,” Thornber said. “Looking around the room, nothing but bright smiles.”

He said the school plans to hire a new professor while introducing a new musical theatre program run jointly with St. Lawrence College.  

“The donation came at a good time because we had been in talks with making this new program, musical theatre,” Thornber said. 

The School will also create a combined arts management graduate diploma and Masters degree in arts administration. The graduate diploma will run in the summer while students continuing on to complete the Masters will complete additional courses and an arts internship during the school year.

Dan is well-acquainted with large donations. He provided a $5-million endowment to Western University’s Faculty of Social Science, which created the Aubrey Dan Program in Management and Organizational Studies (now called DAN Management and Organizational Studies).

Along with several other high-profile donations, Dan headed a theatre company called Dancap Productions. The company was shuttered in 2012.

Craig Walker, interim Director of the School of Drama and Music, says he first met Dan at a show at the Drama Department when Dan’s daughter, Alyse, was in her third year at Queen’s.

The two spoke during intermission about the potential for Dan to come to Queen’s to speak to students about commercial theatre.

“That was the first time he talked me up,” Craig said with a laugh. He added that Dan came to speak, but brought along Tony Award-winning actor Bob Martin. “It was more than what I asked.”

Dan later spoke to Principal Daniel Woolf and told Woolf he was willing to donate to Queen’s after Alyse’s graduation. Walker created a modest plan for a potential donation breaking down how much money would be needed.

“I thought I was asking for much more than I should have, really. I asked him for $500,000 over five years,” Walker said. After a face-to-face meeting, Dan said he believed in the idea — with a catch.

“[Dan] said ‘you’re thinking too small’. He said I should have asked for 10 times as much because, he said, that’s how much I’m going to give you.”

From left to right: School of Drama and Music interim Associate Director Ireneus Zuk, Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Alan Harrison, Marla Dan, Aubrey Dan and School of Drama and Music interim Director Craig Walker. (Photo by Victoria Gibson)

Provost Alan Harrison said the donation was especially noteworthy considering the budget of the merged School of Drama and Music.

The Drama and Music Departments’ combined expenses during the 2015-16 school year were slightly over $5 million — nearly equal to the donation. Meanwhile, the recent major donation to the Smith School of Business — a whopping $50-million endowment — was equal to about two-thirds of the School of Business’ expenses. 

“This gift is a larger proportion of this school’s budget … that’s the enormity of it. It’s clearly going to make a difference,” Harrison said.

Dan said it was important to him that the donation have a real impact on the School.

“It’s got to be transformative and it’s got to make a difference, because if not, it’s not worth the effort. If you’re going to do it, do it right,” he said. 

He said he hopes this new vision for the School of Drama and Music attracts students and professors from across Canada, as well as larger scholarships and improved equipment for the School.

“We want to make this the go-to place.” 

Dan’s contribution is a promising step forward for the small and newly-created School of Drama and Music. Thornber said the funds will open new doors for students in the School’s programs.

“This is huge. It’s just huge for us,” he said.

— with files from Morgan Dodson


April 7, 2016

Aubrey Dan's daughter is named Alyse, not Elise.

The Journal regrets the error.

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