Exeunt all actors

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The referendum has ramifications well beyond theatre at the university

The theatre referendum, held in conjunction with the Students’ Union by-election, poses students with a serious problem. While the requested fee is not a huge amount, there are ramifications to whatever decision is made. If we vote no, students will likely have to pay to go to the theatre, which could potentially drive down attendance and lead to fewer productions. If we vote yes, there are a myriad of dominoes that will be knocked down with potentially severe ramifications that stretch well beyond the theatre at the University of Regina.

The department’s woes have come after years of slashed funding. Over the last seven years, financial support to the beleaguered department has decreased nearly 40 per cent even as tuition for students has increased every year for the past three years. I am not denying that the theatre department is in dire straits and desperately needs help. The problem is that in searching for a solution to the problem the theatre department, through the Fine Arts Students’ Association (FASA), is requesting that URSU collect fees from their membership to continue funding productions.

First and most importantly, allowing a department to petition for funding directly from students through their union sets an extremely dangerous precedent. Should this referendum pass, how long will it be before the music department needs a similar fee to hold concerts at the university, or the chemistry department needs a little money for upgrades to critical equipment? It’s a very slippery slope.

Even worse, if students show that they are willing to supply the funding when the university falls short, it will send a signal to the administration and the provincial government that students are willing to make up the difference when the powers-that-be refuse to live up to their responsibility to fund education properly. While this referendum might only levy an additional 25-cent fee onto students, the potential for increases in tuition even while departments continue to be downsized becomes a very real possibility. In the eyes of the administration, any time there is need of money, it will be easier to impose the increased costs on students than to lobby the government for what’s required. Students will end up paying more and more tuition for a less and less fulfilling education.

And when it comes right down to it, funding of productions has come from the university in the past and that is where it should be coming from in the future. The experience that both performers and theatregoers gain from productions is critical to their degrees, and the university refusing to continue funding the cost of these productions is tantamount to refusing to pay for a portion of any course. Learning about the French Revolution? Well, you’ll never know if that young upstart Robespierre ever managed to purge France of non-revolutionaries. Learning about the Pauli Exclusion Principle? Well, you’ll never know if those two identical fermions can occupy the same quantum state simultaneously. To be fair, in that last case even if you finished the course you still might not know.

In looking at the potential ramifications and assigning where responsibility lies for funding to departments, voting “yes” will not actually help the department in the long run, but more than likely end up hurting everyone at the university. A “no” vote, then, should not indicate that you don’t care about the department, but that you want to seriously address the root causes of its problem rather than applying a quick, temporary solution.

But really, as visible and contentious as this referendum has become, it is merely a symptom of a deeper disease. The loss of over $23,000 in funding over the last seven years is not going to be made up by a measly 25-cent fee on all students. Funding theatre productions through URSU is like putting a bandage over the cut on your finger while your lacerated jugular cascades blood – it’s going to help somewhat but you’re still going to die.

Regardless of whether the referendum passes, the well-being of the theatre department is in serious doubt. There needs to be decisive action taken to save theatre as a whole at the U of R, not just apply a temporary fix that will still end in the department folding for lack of proper funding. The only place that proper funding can come from while keeping education accessible to all people is the government. Maybe it’s time we demanded better from them.

Edward Dodd
Op-Ed Editor

2 comments

  1. Dominic Gregorio 21 September, 2012 at 16:23

     
    For mainstage theatre productions (twice a year?) and official University music ensemble performances, I feel there should be a $5 student admission, which is on-par with most Universities I have taught at and attended.  I want this fee not because I want the department to depend on the minimal earnings, but because psychology tells us that assigning a $0 pricetag to art indicates its value.  
    I'm interested in students having a minimal buy-in, but a buy-in nonetheless.  I would love to give all of my choir students 5 tickets at the beginning of each semester and charge them with selling those 5 tickets to their friends.  I know this strategy works.  The students work harder because they know their friends are coming, and they feel good when they see their friends witness their performance.  Their friends in turn, benefit from the performance and feel good for supporting their friends.  It's a win-win, and a huge community builder.
    I heard from a student during my interview that choir concerts here were poorly attended.  Could it be that students, knowing it's a free concert, are laissez-faire about attendance?  $0 = 0 value?  
    For students who truly cannot afford $5, we set aside comp tickets, or engage them in volunteering for small tasks at the concert.  
    These are my opinions only, and not the opinions of my department or faculty!
    Thanks!
    Dr. Dominic Gregorio
    Director of Choral Activities/ Assistant Professor of Choral Music

  2. Dominic Gregorio 21 September, 2012 at 17:16

    Can someone verify how much each student pays for the UofR Football team or Athletic teams?  Is it $1.25 per student?  And don't students also have to pay to go to games?  I'm new here so I don't know all of the fees!  A comparison to what sports teams do here is relevant!

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