The black box theater in Roble Gym, home of the Department of Theater and Performance Studies (TAPS), has been named the Harry J. Elam, Jr. Theater. Earlier this year, after a distinguished three-decade tenure at Stanford, the university announced that Elam had been named the 16th president of Occidental College. His career at Stanford left an indelible mark on university life, particularly in the arts where he worked to ensure that the university was a vibrant home for art and artists. It is fitting that his name now graces one of the principal performance spaces on campus. Historic Roble Gym underwent a $28 million renovation in 2016 that included the creation of the state-of-the-art theater. Elam was the artistic director of the first production in the new space, the TAPS presentation of Spring Awakening, The Musical. Since the renovation, the theater has hosted TAPS’ main stage productions as well as Stanford Live’s presentation of Barber Shop Chronicles by Nigerian playwright Inua Ellams and Stanford Repertory Theater’s Hecuba/Helen, an adaptation of two plays by Euripides.
The naming of this theater has profound significance for me personally; theater has been central to my life’s work as a scholar, educator, and director.
Elam joined Stanford in 1990 as an associate professor in the drama department (now the Department of Theater and Performance Studies), teaching performance history and practice and serving as chair of the department for a term. He was also the founder and first director of the Institute for Diversity in the Arts and director of the Committee on Black Performing Arts. Other leadership roles at Stanford included senior associate vice provost, vice provost for undergraduate education and senior vice provost for education. In 2016, Elam was appointed vice president for the arts, a newly created position overseeing the strategic future of the arts programs, including the performing and visual arts.
Throughout Elam’s tenure, mentoring students in the arts was always a priority. He received six teaching awards at Stanford, including the Humanities and Sciences Dean’s Distinguished Teaching Award and the Bing Teaching Fellowship for Undergraduate Teaching. He also received the Association for Theatre in Higher Education’s Career Achievement Award in Academic Theatre.
While wearing many leadership hats, he still found time to work on Spring Awakening, The Musical in 2016 and to direct Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun in 2018, both in the theater that now bears his name.
Elam’s departure inspired a generous gift to Stanford University in honor of all that he did for the performing arts and the Stanford University community during his tenure. In recognition of the gift, which helps support TAPS and the Institute for Diversity in the Arts, and in observance of the wishes of the donors, the theater in Roble Gym is now named in Elam’s honor.
“I am so deeply grateful to the donors for their commitment to Stanford and for their generosity in honoring me,” Elam said. “Especially meaningful to me is the fact that this gift also supports the Department of Theater and Performance Studies as well as the Institute for Diversity in the Arts – and in doing so, celebrates the arts, more widely, as vital to the Stanford experience.”