Every term, hundreds of students flock to the Ford Center for Fine Arts to experience the quality products of the Knox Department of Theatre. Despite the success of these productions and continuing support of the community, budgetary concerns continue to cap the potential of the department.
Three weeks ago, during the unveiling of the “Knox 2018 Strategic Plan,” President Amott pledged to enhance the various immersion term programs the college offers, such as Green Oaks Term, open studio and the Theatre Department’s Repertory Term. Having gone through the last Rep Term, I was pleased to hear that the college plans to bolster these unique programs and am excited to see an increased focus on the arts. Yet, only focusing on the immersion terms, which in the case of Rep Term happens every three years, would neglect some of the excellent day-to-day aspects of the Theatre Department, like Studio Theatre.
Studio Theatre is an interesting space because it serves as a performance venue, rehearsal hall, theatrical laboratory and classroom, often all at the same time. As a space, Studio is designed to replicate the “storefront theaters” of Chicago, which is to say, the small theaters in which many graduates of the Theatre Department work in their years following Knox.
In that vein, Studio is primarily a space for the students. With few exceptions (like this term’s main-stage The Caffe Cino Project) the productions that go up in Studio Theatre are directed, designed, managed and acted by students. Because there is only ever one faculty-directed main-stage production a term, and there are usually multiple Studio shows a term, a majority of theatrical productions put on in any given year are Studio shows.
Concurrent with the multiple productions rehearsing and performing in Studio, the space is also a working classroom. For example, last spring students enrolled in the “Lighting Design” course used the space as a classroom and light lab.
Despite the fact that Studio Theatre serves a wide variety of needs within the Theatre Department and the campus, the department is not given enough funds to support a Studio-specific budget. Instead, Studio Theatre depends on limited funds gleaned from the budget set aside for the main-stage productions, a budget that is a quarter of what it was 15 years ago.
While budgeting has always been an issue in higher education, the lack of available funds for Studio Theatre is quite problematic. For example, as someone who has served as the lighting designer for several productions in Studio, I can personally attest to the fact that the lighting instruments in Studio are outdated, ineffective and have not been considered state-of-the-art since CFA was built.
Having additional funds being made available to the Theatre Department would allow the department to set more funds aside specifically for Studio, funds which could be used to begin to purchase new lighting fixtures.
Studio Theatre is a resource for this campus. It allows theatre students to experiment and hone their craft. It provides stimulating entertainment for the student body, free of charge. The versatility of the space truly makes it an asset. However, if Studio is not maintained I fear that the opportunity to work in and enjoy this immersive environment will be lost to future generations of Knox students.
The experiences that I have had in Studio Theatre have proven to be invaluable to my education, and have prepared me for a career in theater. With just a small, dedicated allocation of funds this space can continue to inspire Knox students for years to come.