By Jonathan Meilaender
Saint Vincent College’s Gilbert & Sullivan Players presented Randall’s Thumb the weekend before Thanksgiving. But the venue was not the same as usual. Instead of the Performing Arts Center, the club was obliged to make use of the much smaller Student Activity Center, due to new rules on use of the PAC for student theatre groups.
Gilbert & Sullivan and the musical theater club the Company usually perform one show each semester. In the past, all performances took place in the PAC’s auditorium, but now, the student groups are allowed to use this space only once per year – not once per semester.
The new rule is the result of ever-increasing competition for PAC use by numerous groups and organizations, explained Greggory Brandt, director and professor of theatre.
“The Concert Series, The Voice, lectures, classes, and prep time needed for the Summer Theatre Season require more use of the PAC than ever before,” he said.
According to Brandt, discussions on how to address the issue had been ongoing for years.
Dr. John Smetanka, vice president of Academic Affairs, explained that the whole leadership of the School of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences was involved in crafting a solution.
Micaela Kreuzwieser, president of the Gilbert & Sullivan Players, said she was caught off guard when she was told about the change at the end of the spring 2019 semester.
“I personally hadn’t heard any indication that it was going on. It came a bit out of the blue last year,” she said.
Kreuzwieser said that the switch poses serious difficulties for the club.
“The theatre was designed for our needs in a performing capacity. The problem is that now, we have to find another area on campus that’s not as customized for us,” she stated.
For example, she said, the Student Activity Center doesn’t have a built-in stage. The club inquired about using Luparello Lecture Hall in Dupre, she said, but the request was rebuffed.
Smetanka explained that Luparello isn’t well-suited to theatre and is, in many ways, quite fragile.
“What has happened in the past is that [groups have come in and] the railings have been broken, and the podium, when it gets moved even a little bit, it can ruin it. If it gets bumped or shifts, we lose connections, connections break,” he said.
Kreuzwieser also said that Gilbert & Sullivan had offered to rehearse elsewhere while merely performing in the PAC. That offer was also rejected, she said.
That may be because the time involved even in a few days of performing extends far below the surface, as administration indicated. For example, Brandt said, students aren’t allowed to rehearse or use the space without a staff member present.
“It also minimizes the time back in the theater space building sets, borrowing props and using costume pieces, all things which take time away from the staff that is already busy with other things along with planning the next college production, event or Summer Theatre prep that needs to happen,” Brandt explained. “Not to mention the backstage cleanup that is in the process of happening, but never seems to have the time to get completed.”
One of the immediate causes of action was the strain on staff, Smetanka said.
“That was the biggest concern, that our staff, whether that be the faculty or the technical support personnel, were being overtaxed, beyond the ability to manage all of the different tasks that were assigned. I think by heroic effort in the past, people have made it work, but it was clearly approaching a breaking point,” he said.
The PAC does seem to be heavily scheduled.
“In fact, it's scheduled every weekend from now till the end of the semester,” Brandt said.
The Events & Conference Services Calendar on the Saint Vincent Portal gives an idea of what that scheduling looks like. For example, in the week leading up to the Gilbert & Sullivan performance, the PAC was in use every day except Wednesday and Saturday. The previous Sunday, it was in use for a show by The Company. While it was free on Nov. 22, one of the two Gilbert & Sullivan performance dates, it was used the day before for Fr. Paul Taylor’s inauguration. The next day, it was scheduled a full 12 hours for a Concert Band rehearsal.
The tight competition for time means that other organizations are affected as well, not just theatre, Smetanka said. The new scheduling was not intended to target theatre groups specifically.
“The scheduling of the PAC affects the whole campus [...] it means that people are not going to be able to do everything that they wanted, but makes sure that everybody has something,” he said.
For now, theatre groups are doing the best they can with other facilities. Senior history major Michael Doelling, producer for Gilbert & Sullivan’s Randall’s Thumb, said that the performance went well considering the circumstances.
“I think it really showed the club’s grit, and the fact that we can be denied the theatre for part of the year, but we were still able to have a show. And it worked out well: the first night, all the chairs we set up, they were filled,” he said.
Doelling explained that SGA provided funding for the club to work with an outside company to rent a stage for the Student Activity Center. The show was originally supposed to run three days, Friday through Sunday, but the stage couldn’t be set up until Saturday, he said. That meant cancelling the first show.
Still, he said, the stage itself worked well. The club was able to set up temporary walls and curtains to create a suitable backstage area.
Doelling isn’t sure whether such a complicated model is sustainable. All the effort put into staging made it harder to advertise the performance, he said. But at the end of the day, he said, he understands how full the PAC is, and that compromises might need to be made.
“Of course, it’s not the ideal situation, but I’m really proud of how we did,” he said.
Full disclosure: Micaela Kreuzwieser and Matthew Wojtechko, vice-president of the Gilbert & Sullivan Players, are copy and editor-in-chief for The Review, respectively.