Thursday, March 11, 2010

HSU Going Dark

If stage matters on the North Coast, then this matters: the graduate programs of the Humboldt State University Theatre, Film & Dance department are on the list for elimination. The undergraduate programs may be right behind them.

It's getting to be decision time at HSU, in the latest budget crisis. The Academic Senate has formally listed those graduate programs for elimination, and the department has to defend them--has to say why they shouldn't be scrapped.

The evaluation has nothing to do with their value. It has to do with numerical criteria devised to look like a relevant objective measure. It looks to me like the usual bureaucratic smokescreen, but what do I know.

What I do know is that virtually every production of every theatre organization here depends in part on students--graduate and undergraduate--of HSU, as well as faculty and long-ago graduates of the Theatre department. HSU students starred in, designed and worked on the latest North Coast Rep show. An HSU student directed the latest Ferndale Rep show. Even though Dell'Arte has its own fine school, its productions often use HSU faculty and grads. Humboldt Light Opera, North Coast Prep, and the other groups that come and go...none of it would be the same, and some of it wouldn't exist, without HSU theatre.

And then there's what HSU theatre produces--that no one else locally does. That too, is threatened. But it's even worse than that. Part of the reason that the HSU Theatre department looks so expensive is that it is responsible for running the Van Duzer and other performance spaces. Those costs get figured as department costs. So will those venues also close? And will the other theatre organizations who use those spaces need to go elsewhere?

It gets even worse than that. Also on the list for program elimination is the Music department. Another group of students, graduates and faculty that are essential to musical theatre as well as the musical vitality of Humboldt County. I can't imagine musical theatre at North Coast Rep over the past several years, for example, without the talents who came through HSU. Similiar arguments could be made about dance and film.

Part of the horror of the budget process is the zero sum game--if this isn't cut, then another worthy program--and its faculty and students--must go. I don't happen to think it has to be that way, but I'll stay with just this point: the local community has a stake in the decisions being made at HSU. In particular, the local theatre community has a stake in the fate of the HSU Theatre, Film and Dance department.

A particular irony now is that HSU is set to host next year's regional festival of the Kennedy Center American Theatre Festival. That's 800 to 1200 students, along with hundreds of faculty, etc., from colleges and universities in Northern California (San Francisco/Sacramento and north), Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Northern Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming. They'll be in Arcata for a week, going to shows, spending money. I stood in the lobby of the Arcata Playhouse a few weeks ago, and listened to stories from several prominent local theatre figures who participated in past regionals here, including one who got his start in North Coast theatre because of it.

But next spring, it could be a wake instead of a validation and celebration. Depending on what HSU does this year.

I've got a few obvious self-interests here. I do part-time work for both HSU Theatre, Film & Dance and the Music department. My partner is probably going to be the next chair of TFD. But it seems to me that everybody in the theatre community here has a self-interest to some degree--that's my point.

Maybe that self-interest ought to be declared to those making the decisions--like the Academic Senate and the Provost. Before it's too late.

No comments: