The college has changed its reservation policy for the Wadsworth Auditorium and Alice Austin Theatre. Student performance groups have responded negatively due to their newfound difficulty to book spaces.
The policy, which restricts the reservation of performance spaces, resulted partly from the general lack of usable performance spaces on campus, Chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance and Scenic Designer Steven Stubblefield said. The departments of music, theatre and dance coordinated with the Office of the Provost and the Department of Events of Scheduling in order to ensure that academic performances had open performance spaces, according to Stubblefield and professor of English and former Interim Provost Paul Schacht.
“We do not have a vested interest in denying students performance spaces,” Stubblefield said. “We need performance spaces to function—literally function— as a department.”
The process to change the policy began at the end of the last academic year in meetings between Stubblefield; Schacht; Chair of the music department and professor of music Gerard Floriano; associate professor of theatre, Technical Director, Lighting and Sound Designer Johnnie Ferrell; Assistant Provost for Budget and Facilities Enrico Johnson and Director of Campus Scheduling and Special Events Andrea Klein.
Director of Student Life Charles Matthews and Vice President for Student and Campus Life Robert Bonfiglio were also asked for input before the decision was sent out in an email to the presidents of student performance groups, according to Schacht.
Students and student groups were not directly asked for their input during the decision process because the policy change came as a result of the academic need from the arts department, according to Schacht. Similarly, the administration did not want to ask student groups whether they preferred certain dates for their performances due to concerns about making the reservation process equitable. When emails were sent out early in the summer, none of the clubs responded with critiques, according to Schacht.
Both Stubblefield and Schacht attributed the need for the policy due to the few spaces available where performances can occur.
“The truth of it is that there are other spaces on campus that we would be able to use,” Stubblefield said. “But given the financial state of the college, we just can’t afford upkeep in those spaces.”
A petition submitted to Geneseo Speaks on Sept. 6—calling on Geneseo to support the arts—has received more than 350 signatures. Its author, anthropology major senior Sarah Bissell, understands that the policy results from financial limitations, but outlined the negative consequences this policy could have for student performing arts organizations from her position as president of the a cappella group Exit 8.
“We are some of the largest organizations on campus and these people are pursuing opportunities to engage in performing arts without pursuing it academically,” Bissell said. “Part of the problem with performance space is if we can’t have a performance, we don’t get publicity. People don’t get to know us and they don’t get involved and then our numbers dwindle and it’s a vicious cycle of just not being able to have people involved in what we’re doing.”
Bissell felt that the administration had worked with all of the a cappella groups, but since the five groups all perform together, they have an easier time than other groups in terms of reserving spaces.
Orchesis and the Musical Theatre Club have struggled more with their ability to perform, according to Bissell. In order to organize a show in both the fall and spring semesters, Orchesis has had to purchase space in The Geneseo Riviera Theater, causing a financial strain, according to English major junior Samantha Schmeer. The one show that the administration booked for Orchesis was early in the spring semester, giving dancers only a month to learn choreography.
“It’s financially difficult to perform off campus because we’re not [Student Association] funded,” Schmeer said. “To have to move off campus means that we have to choose between paying for an outside venue or sacrificing the purpose of our club by only having one show for the whole year. It’s supposed to be low-key and easy to do, which isn’t possible if we force people to commit to a whole year.”
Publicist for a capella group Between the Lines senior Gretta Cavatassi connected the policy change restricting student groups to a general sense that the administration does not prioritize the arts.
“I see this policy change in the context of a lot of other stuff that has happened in the past couple years, like the cutting of the studio art department, funding of the Finger Lakes Opera and the diminishing of the humanities,” she said. “These events aren’t all directly related to each other, but it kind of puts forth this overall mood about what the college values and what it doesn’t value.”u