Theater Denied Its Due

Zach Mancher

To teach is to do a praiseworthy deed. It is admirable to impart your knowledge and wisdom onto a younger generation with the hope that your pupils will one day have ideas, discoveries and achievements that will surpass even your own, and eventually bring them greatness. For this, I am, as a student and member of the Colgate community, extremely grateful. But the recent actions of a few of the faculty from the Humanities division have not followed this honorable mission.

Tuesday, Humanities faculty members banned the Student Theater Company from using the Ho Lecture Hall for their production of Ira Levin’s comedic thriller, “Deathtrap.” They did this because they said that the set, which was stored in one back corner of the room, was an eyesore, and was distracting to their classes. The set was rearranged and covered over in a white cloth in order to try and appease the aesthetic senses of the English department to no avail. The division rejected the set remaining in Ho for any length of time barring the actual shows, despite the fact that the set would take several hours to put up and take down every night. They did this even though the Humanities division, as it includes both the English and Theater departments, should support live theater on campus. Instead, it is attacking Student Theater with this decision.

But this story starts long before Tuesday morning. The show, as a vision of director senior Jon Cornfield, was officially born in the Masque and Triangle general meeting last April. With Student Theater already not allowed to perform in the best of the available spaces on campus (Brehmer Theater and the Chapel), the venue is an important part of any proposal. In recent years, Student Theater has been forced to improvise and use less than ideal spaces such as the Ho Lecture Hall, Lawrence 20, and Little 107. Cornfield’s vision was to use the characteristics of the Ho Lecture Hall to transform the hall into the home of playwright Sidney Bruhl, inviting the audience into his living room to witness the theatrics. To this end, the set was designed by junior Allie Geiger, a theater major with a concentration in scenic design. It was designed over the course of the semester as an independent study class advised by Professor Marjorie Kellogg in order to embody the vision of the director. Geiger ingeniously incorporated not only the ambience of the room, but also the windows and center French doors as characteristics of the Bruhl house. This show and set were not just built with Ho in mind, but rather specifically designed to fit and even blend into the surroundings of the venue.

And quite a set it was. Unlike the usual Student Theater and SMuTCo. backgrounds which usually consist of at most a few free standing flats painted to give the setting a theme, this was a full set and an exceptional piece of art. It consisted of two large pieces, each ten feet high and 14 and 15 feet wide, respectively, which fit together at a corner. The pieces were painted, wallpapered, and adorned with specifically designed and constructed crown molding and two columns. One piece had two, four-level high bookshelves and a working fireplace. Due to the timing of the show dates being close to those of University Theater’s “Miss Julie,” all of the construction had to be done in four days. In those four days, eight students worked 160 hours under the supervision of the theater department’s Joel Morain and Ryan Jones. This set was an achievement for Student Theater, which usually resigns itself to minimalist theater out of conveniences.

Our generation is oft charged with not doing anything to take a stand or make a change. We are, essentially, the convenience generation. We opt out of reading in favor of video games and trade cooking for Easy Mac. It stands to reason, then, that the Humanities division has Student Theater on the basis that the set was “inconvenient.” It flies in the face of decency that the very professors who participate in the arts education of Colgate students should stunt the growth of student-run theater. It is extremely sad that the Humanities Division should single theater out as the orphaned department.

Last year, Student Theater put on “Pterodactyls,” a play by Nicky Silver wherein three smaller flats were stored in the back of the Ho Lecture room and a temporary hardwood floor was installed. Faculty and staff did not object ot he use of hte set, and the show went on to success. When faculty were asked if the same arrangement should be made for “Deathtrap,” the answer was “yes.” However, upon seeing the labor of three months of design and construction, the show was evicted.

So what message are the faculty members sending to their students? They are informing us it is acceptable to cop out for less complex, less grandiose ideals. They are letting us know that excuses are preferable to efforts. They are telling us that greatness will be punished.

In our present situation, students worked extremely hard in order to change something for the better. While it was not a huge change, such as, for instance, getting aid into Darfur, it was a change nonetheless. And college isn’t necessarily the time for big change, but rather the time to practice and hone our skills for making bigger change when we enter “the real world.” Then the faculty told the students that all their work was not more important than a little inconvenience to their classrooms. They said that even though the “Deathtrap” team did everything by the book (including reserving the space on EMS and individually talking each professor beforehand to obtain permission to leave the set there) that the faculty has the final say, and the decks are in fact, stacked against us. Finally, they are denying the students, their pupils, their apprentices in the world of intellectualism, a chance at greatness.