The Evergreen State College is known for a liberal-arts environment that encourages free artistic expression. However, this spring Evergreen will cut heavily into the budget for staff and facilities that nurture theatrical expression. This year, the last seven shows at TESC will be especially fraught but meaningful, as they mark a climax before severe budget cuts and staff reductions go into effect.
The Experimental Theater (COM 124, a 200-seat, black-box venue) and its costume and scene shops will close at the end of the spring 2018 semester. On Friday, May 18, faculty and staff members were informed that three of four staff positions and 20 student-staff positions are to be eliminated. There will also be cuts to the academic budget office, library staff and media-services office.
Theater arts at TESC have educated and entertained thousands of students and community members over the decades and have been a greenhouse for theater to grow across the South Sound and the world. Alumni of the program have gone on to theatrical success. Mark Alford graduated in 2011, and has since co-founded two improv companies and appeared on nearly every stage in the South Sound. After renowned choreographer and actress Amy Shephard’s 2009 graduation, she completed theater graduate school in England. Matt Lawrence, a 1992 graduate, went from a role as technical-theater director at TESC to lighting design at Abu Dhabi entertainment complexes for global entertainment agency ThinkWell.
Lawrence describes the decision to close the theater as “mind-numbingly short-sighted” and “diametrically opposed to the point of a liberal arts institution. Performing-arts curriculum without actual public performance is like swimming school without water.”
“We have $5.9 million in cuts to make,” explains Zach Powers, communications manager for the college, “and the reduction to our Communication Building and some of our arts programs that work in that building make up $250 thousand of that.” In a year of “waning enrollment,” Powers emphasizes the need to prioritize funding for lower-cost programs that most directly affect students’ academic paths. “There [are] no curricular offerings being canceled as a result of these closures. … We’re trying to minimize the effects on students all over campus. … It’s not as though (the arts) are being singled out.”
“As the school was working on their fiscal challenges and drop in enrollment,” recalls Jerry Berebitsky, the facility’s current technical director, “they said, ‘Stuff will happen. People will lose jobs.’ We knew the arts are not often respected in the budget-cutting realm, and it’s something that’s easy to cut early.” The faculty will be reduced to “about as minimal as you can get,” Berebitsky says: “one full-time dance faculty, one full-time theater faculty and [supplemental] weekend and evening faculty.” Berebitsky himself will lose his job. The recital hall will remain open, but scheduling space for student-run arts organizations to perform will be increasingly difficult.
“I find it very disappointing,” says Shephard, “but I’m not surprised. … The benefits of theater and performance for individuals and groups are boundless, but … the benefits aren’t easily measured and recorded, so those departments that rely primarily on qualitative data are the first to get cut.”
Asked to characterize this loss to students and the community, Berebitsky recalls a Russian-history student who was cast in ‘Three Sisters’ this spring. “He was deeply moved by what this experience brought to him,” says Berebitsky. “He thought he would carry this with him the rest of his life. I was really moved by his comments. He was choking up as he reflected on it. That’s what I think the power of Evergreen offers.”
7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, May 26 and 27
Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind / Lysistrata
7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, June 1 and 2
Bodies Without Organs
2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, June 2
Songs and Scenes: Shakespeare and Brecht
7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 2
7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, June 8 and 9
7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, June 8 and 9
Samsara, Death and Rebirth
8 p.m. Saturday, June 9
Free after $3 parking fee
Communication Building (except Love/Sick, which is in Seminar D4107),
The Evergreen State College,
2700 Evergreen Pkwy. NW, Olympia