In defense of the Theatre and Dance Department

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By Patricia Culbert

The recent article sadly published by the Concordiensis without fact verification cannot go unanswered. On behalf of the faculty of the department of theatre and dance, I would like to offer this rebuttal to the skewed view presented in Julia Hotz’s comments regarding the recent Mountebanks production in the Yulman Theater.

While Ms. Hotz was quick to send the department faculty an e-mail with assurances that this article was only a “personal opinion” based on “hearsay,” and a “general sentiment” from, as she states: “who knows where/how it originated,” the article does read as a factual report of “truth” unless countered with real facts.

Fact: The Drowsy Chaperone was not the college’s first musical, nor even the first musical presented by Mountebanks. Past department productions have included Cabaret and Pippin, as well as numerous plays that include music and/or dance, albeit not in the “tradition” of blockbuster Broadway shows. Among these, I could list some recent theatre and dance department productions: Waiting for Lefty, Peter Pan and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Of course, our annual Winter Dance concert offers tremendous dance opportunities, and in recent years has featured singers and paid professional musicians as an integral part of the performance.

The current department production in rehearsal is a “musical entertainment” for which demanding vocal and dance talent has been cast—a number of the cast are current members of the Mountebanks organization and appeared in or worked on The Drowsy Chaperone. The musical director is a paid professional as is the department’s frequent practice.

Hotz has also failed to research works presented by the student theater club. The fact is that Mountebanks spent a number of years producing original musicals and a well-received production of The Fantasticks, which was presented on the main stage. If that isn’t major departmental support, I don’t know what is!

Musicals and musical theater have been a significant part of this department’s offerings even while our department mission seeks to provide a broader, more complex artistic environment and viewpoint. Our mission states, in part, that we “encourage academic excellence and engage students in inquiry and experiences that develop risk taking, collaborative skills and critical judgment which are essential tools for every profession.

Our historical, theoretical and technique courses along with our seasonal productions reflect these goals, and offer an exploration of a variety of performance genres from many cultures.” Hotz’s implied challenge to ­­the department to “expand” the musical theater program is simply ludicrous in the face of the broad, eclectic, challenging and varied production history easily viewed on our department webpage.

Fact: The department of theatre and dance was and has always been highly supportive of Mountebanks and their work. The department offers the use of theater space, equipment, props and costumes upon request and scheduling. Members of the department meet regularly with Mountebanks leadership and/or production crews as requested for advice, scheduling and logistics.

Faculty have worked directly on productions as requested for design and technical needs as well as for artistic needs. In the past, I have personally worked on Mountebanks’ productions as a dialect coach or to give directing notes, as requested by Mountebanks’ production teams. I cannot imagine where Hotz has gotten her information that the faculty were “quite critical and hesitant to offer their support.” This is a blatantly untrue and an unfortunate statement to present in an “opinion” article. While it is evident that our support is very much with Mountebanks as noted above, it is also true that the theater facility is a busy and booked performance and teaching space. But while the Mountebanks organization does not enjoy unlimited use of the facility without advance bookings or consideration of the teaching and technical scheduling of the department, they do receive a great deal more support than would be normally offered to a student club.

There is not another student run organization that I can think of that has the kind of faculty and facility support that Mountebanks has enjoyed.

Have a look at local college theater departments and you will find that student theater are not even allowed in the theater buildings or to use theater department equipment!

Fact: The theatre and dance department IS proud of student artistic accomplishment on this campus. While our main stage production season does not currently offer the opportunity for the student theater club to book productions in the large space, nor do we need to “expand the musical theater program” beyond our broad departmental mission, we DO offer expertise and assistance in every way possible, contrary to Hotz’s claim. In response to student interest, a theatre and dance department course in Musical Theater was developed some years ago and offered regularly. The faculty have highly praised Lucas Rivers’ production of The Drowsy Chaperone as well as the performance company. Most of the faculty attended the performances and spent time post-performance in extensive verbal praise to the company, individually and collectively.

To claim, as this article does, that this department does not support or produce musicals is a flat inaccuracy. To call The Drowsy Chaperone a “musical debacle” or to state that the theatre and dance department “violates” the mission of Union is an insult to the extra attention, time, support and praise that this department freely offers this independent student club. Ms. Hotz’s damaging “opinion” should be retracted in its entirety.

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