Class Cancelled by Consensus

First-Year Theatre Students Hold Picket Line, Public Recitation

Professor Kate Bligh speaks to students outside of their classroom Photo Erin Sparks
Students in the EV building Photo Pierre Chauvin
Photo Pierre Chauvin
Photo Pierre Chauvin
Photo Pierre Chauvin

A standoff between first-year theatre students and their professor ended in a majority vote to cancel class on Tuesday afternoon.

In the first floor corridor of the EV building in front of the York amphitheatre, students blocked access to their professor who attempted to climb through the human barricade; students, dressed in red, recited the play Hippolytus in unison in protest.

After two attempts to move through the barricade, Professor Kate Bligh and a small group of students boarded the elevators, remaining students hurrying up the stairs to meet them on the fifth floor.

Before Bligh arrived, strike coordinators had briefed students on the plan to motion the class become an open session, where formal class is cancelled but the group could still work on course material together, allowing those students striking to learn without crossing picket lines.

Students and Bligh sat together in the building’s fifth floor lobby, to eventually participate in what Bligh called “going off script.” Upon getting out of the elevators, a large group had assembled in front.

“I support the cause, but I’m instructed by my union to hold class,” said Bligh to a group of about 60 in the building’s fifth floor lobby.

After some discussion, a blind vote—where students closed their eyes and raised their hands for or against class cancellation—decided that the class was officially cancelled.

What happened next was perhaps what’s expected of theatre students, improvisation.

The class discussed the scripts covered by the course with Bligh, in an open discussion lead by group consensus until the end of scheduled class-time.

All the while, other students blocked access to the auditorium five floors below.

Theatre and Development student Ned Zimmerman acted as mediator to reach the consensus for open session and was happy about the space for discussion created by his class.

“I think we had a really constructive session with Kate despite that class was cancelled,” said Zimmerman. “All of this has been driven by meetings that we’ve had as a group. We had 40 students from this class show up at a meeting last night, and 22-23 at a meeting Sunday night.”

With their background in public performance, these students have come up with alternative methods of protest to the standard picket. Especially with first-year classes being the biggest in the department, there is an opportunity to both inform themselves and those they share the building with through public demonstration.

“Using a performative way of garnering attention shows what fine arts students can do while on strike, under pressure,” said Theatre Performance student Tyson Houseman. “It’s how we can be constructive about this, and get the word out.”

“We’re going to do the exact same thing on Thursday. Pick up where we left off in the play,” said first-year student Gabriel Schultz, who lead the class in their script-reading demonstration. “We’re going to be doing other events.”

But much hinges on the CSU General Assembly tomorrow, where the tide of student support has the chance to move in favour or against the strike.

“My hope is that we have something constructive in some form again [for next class],” said Zimmerman. “It really depends on the outcome of the vote on Wednesday.”

First-Year Theatre Students Hold Picket Line, Public Recitation