Year-end project shines light on budget cuts in arts colleges
"We’re a tiny little building, we’re a small student population, but we have a lot of heart.” - Grahame Kent Drama Student
A group of 20-odd people run through the halls of the John Mitchell Building, chanting, “Now all the youth of England are on fire!” A fourth-year drama class instigated the ruckus; they’re leading the group through a metaphorical reenactment of the Feb. 17 fine arts and humanities divisional town hall meeting.
Art cannot be wholly separate from the world in which it was created, a maxim the expressive movement drama class exemplified with a recent performance. Developed as a year-end project, the performance was born in part out of their frustrations with budget cuts and downsizing planned for the drama department. They were in the first stages of creating the performance when the College of Arts and Science hosted the first of two town halls. “We got kind of riled up about the town hall meeting, and we were already in the middle of planning this project,” explained drama student Morgan Murray.
“We were sitting outside and reading the text and a few things just lined up and then we kept going a bit deeper and more things started locking in place,” continued drama student Grahame Kent. The words to the performance came from Henry V. As they read the text, they started to see parallels to their own situation. One comparison they found was to England, a place which had a “little body with a mighty heart.” “That sort of was like, hey, that’s us!” said Kent. “We’re a tiny little building, we’re a small student population, but we have a lot of heart.”
The movement class performed three of five prologues from Henry V, inviting the audience to join in at times, and moving the audience around the tiny John Mitchell Building. Only one of the prologues was developed around the idea of criticizing the cuts to the department. At one point, the performance moved from a small seminar room to the larger North Studio. Drama student James Aaron explained this part of the performance was based on events at the town hall.
“When the vice-dean [David Parkinson] came in and saw there were tons of people from the music department, the drama department and also the English department and religious studies, visual arts, all people that are affected by the arts and science, his aide came in and moved us to a larger room.” Two big black boxes stood at the centre of the North Studio with the words “The Project” on it to represent the proposed Clarion arts centre. The performance included knocking The Project over.
“Our drama department is thriving,” said drama student Nathan Howe. “We’ve had a few sold out or close to sold out shows the
last two years, so we brought in some images of that with the Clarion Project.” “Everyone’s expecting more good things to come out of this department, such as the Amadeus production next year,” added Kent. “We were trying to show the problem with that because people can get jazzed about that, but they’re cutting down staff.”
The students who staged the performance are clearly frustrated and worried about the future of their department. Howe pointed out that the John Mitchell building was supposed to be a temporary building, but the drama department has been there now for 18 years. “It’s technically a soil science building,” said Kent.
Murray added that the department will lose nine credits next year. “One general theme that we wanted to get across was that for those of us who are returning to the university next year… we’re worried about what the department is going to be like,” said Aaron.