Funded by Lillian Disney, who lent support to Walt's venture into education, her gift to the school to remodel a campus theater and rename it the Walt Disney Modular Theater in 1993. The modular theater is based on a concept suggested by Antonin Artaud, who asserted that the ideal theater could be reconfigured for each and every new performance or play. When Walt Disney founded his Institute of the Arts in 1967, he requested suggestions from leaders in various artistic fields as to what would be the ideal tools for advancing the study and practice of their medium. One of the overwhelmingly popular suggestions from the theater community was a modular theater as suggested by Artaud. Disney had the Modular Theater incorporated as the central performance space of his Institute. It was the first of its kind constructed, and remains one of only five in the world.
The chief feature of the theater is a segmented floor, divided into 348 4'x4' square platforms, each mounted on its own independent pneumatic pistons, allowing the floor to be reconfigured into whatever shape is desired. The theater is also composed of segmented pieces, so that walls can also be easily reconfigured, creating a virtually limitless number of possibilities in design. The theater is two stories tall from floor to ceiling—the pneumatic pistons reach another story down in to the CalArts library, where they are a dominating architectural feature. There are doors on all sides of the theater so that the audience can be made to enter from whatever direction the artists choose. The theater can be divided into several playing spaces, the audience can be separated into several sections, and any combination of levels and directions can be used. The theater can also be configured into an environmental space, with the audience moving through multiple locations in the course of a show, or being presented with a virtual environment rather than one in which they are separate from the performance.
The Walt Disney Modular Theater is employed year-round by students and faculty at the California Institute Of The Arts, primarily those in the schools of Theater, Dance, and Music. Though the idea of modular theater has fallen out of fashion, in favor of environmental theater and the resurgence of proscenium spectacle theater, this theater and the few others like it represent one of the most striking ideas in the effort to advance and expand the possibilities of live performance. The Theater is run by the Technical Direction Group.