The relocation of musical theater performances from the University Theatre to the Jonsson Performance Hall has left class members expressing frustration due to the lack of accommodations.
The group consists of 15 to 20 students who take a musical theatre class and put on two shows every year: “The Best of Broadway,” a large-scale show performed in the fall and the Spring Musical, a smaller version presented in the spring. Kathryn Evans oversees the class.
Students in the musical theater class had been performing in the University Theatre since 2009. Last spring, Dean of Arts and Humanities Dennis Kratz told them they would no longer be able to perform there and they would have to use the Jonsson Performance Hall.
Kratz could not be reached for comment.
Other groups, including dance and theater, wanted to use the space and were given priority, whereas the musical theater class was not prioritized due to the lack of qualified staff and classes about musical theater.
The Jonsson Performance Hall is significantly smaller than the University Theatre. The University Theatre seats a total of 275 people while the Jonsson Performance Hall seats 196 people.
The 2015 spring musical, in which students performed “A Little Night Music,” was the first time the group had to use the Jonsson Performance Hall. At the time, however, students believed it was a temporary scheduling issue. Kratz advised them to have a choral performance instead of a full musical theater performance because the hall didn’t allow them the capacity to do so.
Class members worked to put on the full musical theater performance in the hall, though it was challenging for them.
“Understanding that we had a smaller space, we had to adjust the big ideas we had because we couldn’t really do much in the performance hall,” said child learning and development junior Franklin Co.
He said the space was limiting because they didn’t have enough room to create an extravagant set.
The Jonsson Performance Hall was limiting to students in many ways. The hall has a basic lighting and sound system that allows for limited control.
Sound equipment in the hall is very minimal, which posed a problem during the performance.Members had to project their voice over the musical accompaniment so audience members could hear them.
“We ended up screaming and shouting lines,” said political science senior Sarah Grubaugh.
Another disadvantage was the lack of backstage area for performers to go after their scenes had ended. The group had to cram into a small classroom with the lights turned off in order to not be seen by the audience. The small space also meant there was little to no room for costume changes.
The University Theatre, on the other hand, includes dressing rooms and a lighting/sound booth.
On the night of the spring musical, “Dangerous Liaisons”, a play by Christopher Hampton, also opened in the University Theatre. This resulted in a division of audience members between the two shows and another obstacle for the musical theater group.
“Students were pitted against each other for audience members, which is not what we want,” Grubaugh said.
After the spring musical performance, Grubaugh said the group believed it would return to performing in the University Theatre as they did every year. Shortly after the spring musical had ended, Kratz informed the group that its shows would have to be relocated permanently to the performance hall.
Grubaugh said the students were not pleased with their relocation to the Jonsson Performance Hall because they felt they deserved to be in the theatre. They immediately decided to take action.
After several weeks of trying to convince Kratz and Arts and Humanities faculty to let them stay in the theatre by presenting alternative schedules, students were given the choice to either perform in the Jonsson Performance Hall in April or the University Theatre a week before finals. They opted to perform in the University Theatre, though Co and Grubaugh said the timing is going to be inconvenient.
In the future, Grubaugh said, Kratz told the group he wants musical theater to be student run and directed. She said it wouldn’t be a problem because it is already very student oriented. Because of the limited staff and resources, they create the set and costumes for the shows and are free to produce it on their own. Grubaugh said they don’t mind doing the work themselves because it has helped them work alongside different people and have fun while doing it.
“It’s really something that helped us grow as people and future professionals,” she said.
Co said he hopes the change doesn’t affect the future of the group.
“The thought that it could dissipate into something smaller is scary to me because I’d like other people to feel like they can be accepted into this group because it has been so welcoming and open to me,” Co said.