Provost hosts meeting to discuss arts facilities

On Thursday, March 5, Provost and Dean of Faculty Lori Kletzer assembled a “Town Hall Meeting” for students and professors to discuss the Performing Arts facilities planning.

The faculty met from 4 to 5 p.m. to voice their own concerns, then the meeting opened to student input at 5 p.m. Kletzer began the conversation by clarifying, “our intention is to listen to you,” highlighting the planning group’s desire to form the building around what students truly need. She also welcomed Lauren Stockless ’15 and Nathan Trivers ’17, who have sat on the planning group throughout the process to increase the communication between the administration and  performing arts students.

After her opening remarks, Kletzer introduced Jean Gaff from Pfeiffer Partners Architecture, who presented an outline of the plans for the new facility. Gaff showed pictures of similar institutions’ performing arts buildings, and the student crowd audibly groaned at the difference between the Colleges facilities and some of the dance studios and performance stages at schools like Bowdoin and Tufts.

In the opening presentation, Gaff introduced what she’d like to hear from the students, behooving them to address all types of concerns.“When you build a building like this, you do it once in a lifetime,” Gaff said “We need to think 30-40 years in advance.” Some of her main questions, which she wrote on a PowerPoint presentation, were: “What can we do to enhance your educational experience?” and “How can we work with existing spaces?”

Gaff had taken a tour of the College before the Town Hall meeting and came to the conclusion that our current facilities are “undernourished.” She laughed at the “cellar theater” in Strider, humorously acknowledging that it “has not been replicated at any other college.” She also mentioned the need to combine the arts facilities into a bigger building so that theater and dance majors can more easily collaborate with cinema and music students, instead of having the great divide between Bixler and Runnals. Gaff introduced the notion of “a shared space for creative collaboration,” which has become one of the taglines for the new facility.

The facility, in current plans, will include a recital hall, a flexible theater/lab, a proscenium theater, and a dance studio/lab. These spaces will create room for dance practices and performances, theatrical performances, film screenings, and many other activities.

About thirty minutes into the one-hour meeting, Gaff opened the floor to comments from the students. Another member of the architecture team took notes on a chalkboard as the performing arts majors and club leaders discussed their various concerns.

Liam Connell ’15 told an anecdote about a music performance that occurred a few weeks ago, wherein a small group of musicians performed for friends and family in the band room. He used this example to highlight the necessity of a space that facilitates smaller, more intimate performances, not just larger stages.

Lindsay DiBartholomeo ’15 requested that the architects “emphasize logistical planning,” explaining that the set-up of Runnals is not conducive to costume designs, as the dressing rooms are located far away from the costume areas. She also said that it’s crucial to have a space that exists only for student use. “Departments often get priority,” she pointed out, saying that Strider Theater and Page Commons are used for bigger events and are rarely available for student clubs. “Having spaces that are not subject to the whim of scheduling would be helpful,” she suggested.

Currently, student clubs like Powder and Wig, Hipnotik and Colby Dancers are allotted one weekend a year to perform in Strider Theater. Their other performance options include Page Commons and the Bobby Silberman Lounge, neither of which are conducive to performances.

Julie MacLean ’15, director of Broadway Musical Revue (BMR) and member of Power and Wig and the Megolomaniacs, added to DiBartholomeo’s point by saying, “all of my clubs kind of get pushed to the background.” She, too, emphasized “having a space where there are pianos and rehearsal spaces for students where faculty can’t come in and say ‘you can’t do this here.’”

Hipnotik captain Eleanor Powell ’15 added to this point, saying that a storage space for club costumes would also help increase the relations between student performance clubs and would likely reduce the school’s spending on costumes. “There have been times that the Colby Dancers and Hipnotik have bought similar outfits, just because we didn’t know what the other group needed,” she said.

The students representing the needs for the Cinema Studies program spoke in praise of the idea for a better screening room. Rachel Hawkins ’15 mentioned the absurdity of screening a film through an old projector in a classroom not conducive to film watching: many aspects of cinematography are lost when a film isn’t shown in the proper format and aspect ratio, and the current spaces at Colby deter from the viewing of films.

Will Qin ’17 mentioned that student clubs such as the Outing Club often want to screen films but do not have the proper space to do so. A new screening space would also give various clubs the opportunity to come together to watch more films.

Milton Guillen ’15 added to the discussion of Cinema Studies at Colby by pointing out that the program is growing, and there’s a need for film production spaces in collaboration with the new screening room.

As the conversation came to a close, many students expressed the desire to have a building that attracts new arts students. Brendan Leonard ’16 said that many of the arts students had similar stories: they were attracted to Colby for different academic reasons, but then realized their passion for the arts through faculty and clubs. On this note, he encouraged the planning board and the administration to keep in mind how necessary the faculty are to the arts at Colby. This comment remained relevant considering the recent news that Assistant Professor of Theater and Dance Todd Coulter was not granted tenure.

Gaff and her colleagues thanked the students for voicing their needs, and promised to review the notes and take every request into consideration.

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