Goodbye, Student Productions!

Budget Cuts Put Disproportionate Pressure on Theatre Department

Theatre students watch as Jess Fildes and Hannah Morrow demonstrate an exercise during a clowning class. The theatre department is expected to be strongly affected by budget cuts. Photo Erin Sparks

Though not unexpected, the scope of the impending cuts to Concordia’s Faculty of Fine Arts came as a shock to me and many of my fellow students in the Department of Theatre.

We first learned of the cuts from a departmental meeting in early February. The facts are these: between 15 and 20 per cent of the Fine Arts faculty’s $3.9 million non-salary and non-permanent budget will have been cut when Concordia’s 2013-14 fiscal year begins on May 1.

Access to theatre facilities will likely be reduced as a result of cuts to the staff who keep them open. There will be fewer opportunities for visiting artists to work with our students and less commissioned, original work on our stages.

Summer theatre courses have been suspended for re-evaluation and could be eliminated outright, and as many as 25 course sections will likely be cancelled throughout the Faculty of Fine Arts.

For those of us in the performing arts, the impact of these cuts will be an exercise in a different sort of creativity. For example, studio classes in theatre rarely contain more than eighteen students, and there is no way to boost their enrolment without undermining the pedagogical goals of a studio environment.

Much of the department’s core curriculum is delivered in this format; it seems to be well understood by faculty and administration alike that the integrity of these classes must be preserved by capping their enrolment at current levels, so the department is left trying to find savings elsewhere.

As a result, we will likely see fewer main stage and student-initiated productions, which will curtail opportunities for actors, designers, playwrights, directors, dramaturges and stage managers to hone their craft over the length of their degree.

We will most certainly see fewer visiting artists, which will narrow our exposure to a true diversity of theatrical practices in both the direction and creation of new works for Concordia’s stages.

A particularly worrying development for many theatre students is the temporary suspension and possible cancellation of all summer theatre courses.

According to the Dean of Fine Arts, Catherine Wild, the administration’s primary criteria for evaluating which courses are expendable and which are not lie in reviewing their levels of enrolment and determining whether the courses in question are electives or part of a program’s core curriculum.

This crude logic offers a woefully inadequate measure of a course’s inherent worth.

Two longstanding summer offerings, TDEV 498B (Designing an Acting Workshop) and TDEV 498C (Conducting an Acting Workshop) are likely targets for elimination based on their status as elective classes with relatively low enrolment.

They are, however, widely praised by past students as having been both an indispensable part of their artistic development and instrumental in making the transition from undergraduate study to work in the field.

There is a case to be made for preserving both courses solely based on their demonstrable role in improving the employability of graduates, but I hesitate to frame the conversation in this way.

The increasing trend towards viewing post-secondary education as vocational training rather than as an opportunity to broaden one’s horizons and critically engage with the world mirrors an increasing tendency to value the arts based on their economic impact rather than as invaluable expressions of the society we live in.

Likewise, rather than asking whether a course breaks even, we should be asking whether it changes the lives of those who pass through it.

Within the theatre department, we can be grateful for an engaged and active community of students.

In response to a strong theatre presence at the Feb. 15 Faculty of Fine Arts Council meeting and a petition calling for direct dialogue on course cancellations circulated by the Concordia Association of Students in Theatre, Dean Wild has agreed to meet with CAST’s executives on Wednesday to address the concerns we have raised.

As a theatre student who cares deeply for the future of our department, I hope that we can find some common ground and work together to make sure that the impact of the cuts is reduced.

Ned Zimmerman is a second-year BFA student in Theatre and Development and treasurer of the Concordia Association of Students in Theatre. This article represents his own views, and not necessarily those of the Concordia Association of Students in Theatre.