The Redding Musical That Never Was

  

Once upon a time there was a summer theater program at a quaint community college. This theater had the biggest, best equipped stage in the kingdom. The directors had great plans to produce a magical summer musical and bring happiness to the community and revenue to the college. Many new students were drawn to this college theater program and they all began making plans to create the magical musical play. And the summer looked rosy.

But then, of course, the play needed magic beans. Lots of beans. And the keepers of the magic beans, the Bean Counters, who didn't believe in silly musicals, who didn't see any value in summer theater programs, kept a tight grasp on their magic beans and cried, "Get your own beans - workshop it!"

The musical that didn't happen was Xanadu, and the theater was Shasta College's in Redding, but this tale isn't about mythical Xanadu. This story takes place off stage, behind the scenery. It's about the perceived value of one part of the curriculum over another and assigning that value based on the lowest common denominator (the beans), and ignoring less tangible values (the arts).

More often these days, it seems the value of education is viewed through a business lens. And it appears the administrative positions at colleges are more readily filled by those with master's degrees in business than by master educators. Music director Dr. Elizabeth Waterbury has seen highly qualified educators passed over in favor of money managers with business degrees. She says the college business model more closely resembles a savings institution than an institution of higher learning. Others on the faculty sense that the performing arts and fine arts may have a lower perceived value in the eyes of the administration.

When the Bean Counters - sorry, the administrators - said "workshop it," what they meant was, they were withdrawing state funding of the program, removing academic credit from the classes involved, and requiring students to pay $250–$275 each to meet the costs of running such a program. They turn it into a pay-as-you-go workshop as opposed to a college course. When this happens, students don't earn college credits but do shoulder 100 percent of the financial burden. In other words, "You're on your own kids, break a leg." But that's not the way the community college system was intended to work.

Shasta College instructor and play director Dean Munroe is concerned that the cancellation of this summer's theater program will set a precedence for the future. Budgets are tight, yes, but a summer show is usually a money maker for the college. It brings in guest instructors and means extra income for current faculty, which garners faculty retention. The theater facility is well-equipped, there is no shortage of eager students and available faculty. How then do you justify a dark theater? Here are some quotes from the theater page of Shasta College's website: “The department features ... a vigorous Summer Theatre Festival of popular musicals and comedies” and “Community involvement is very welcome.” You don't say. Xanadu was canceled even before auditions were held. And no one seems to know exactly why.

Out of sight is out of mind and when a theater goes dark it is effectively off the radar screen of the community it serves. Every year, Shasta College spends fewer dollars publicizing its theater events. I did a play at the college last March called "Circle Mirror Transformation." Did you hear about it? We got posters for the show the night before we opened. Where there was once a dedicated publicity office in the theater wing, the marketing department for the entire college is now manned by a single person who is entirely overwhelmed. While every high school and middle school features a prominent electronic reader board to announce their events, Shasta College refuses to invest in any kind of marquee or sign for their theater despite faculty requests year after year. Dr. Waterbury points out that the Record Searchlight Recreation Guide, a visitor's guide to Redding's activities and venues, doesn't even mention the Shasta College theater venue. Many Redding residents remain unaware of it.

Several years ago, when the aging theater desperately needed renovation, funds became available through the passage of Measure A in 2002. But the funds were not released for seven years until safety issues became so severe that it forced the beginning of a $1.6-million renovation in June of 2009. It's not that they didn't have any money, they are just really loathe to spend any of it.

High schools enjoy the close parent support system that develops over a 4-year period. Parents get involved with their kids' plays as set builders, costumers and boosters. But when the kids enter college, "the parent game is over," says Munroe. "We don't have that parent/student system where the object is to get as many bodies up on the stage as possible to guarantee an audience of devoted moms, dads, aunts, uncles, and grandparents." In college, the booster club/student activity aspect is left behind and theater becomes a complete course of academic study. Plays are chosen on literary and educational criteria rather than popularity. It's about learning a craft and getting a taste of how it's done in the real world.

Entertainment is still a huge industry, especially in California. Most technicians, stage hands, designers, and performers come to the industry through college training. Stage, television and movie entertainment is an exciting, creative world full of opportunity for skilled professionals. It holds a lot of potential value, both to the economy and the culture. But what do you think? Is theater a frivolous, self-serving activity or does it have a valid place in the larger world? Should institutes of higher learning set policy that favors some subjects over others? Should the creation of art be guided by artists or decreed by accountants?

This tale isn't over, but I hope it will have a happy ending.

An actor, director, and artist, Dean Williams has appeared on Shasta County stages for over 25 years in nearly 100 different roles. He has collaborated with many theater groups and is co-founder of The Root Theatre Company. He has also voiced characters for Sega and Playstation video games, acted for a number of radio, televison and independent film projects, and now also serves as A News Cafe's editor of Stage Manager listings. Reach him at cafestagemanager@gmail.com.

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of anewscafe.com.

Share


Comment Policy: We welcome your comments, with some caveats: Please keep your comments positive and civilized. If your comment is critical, please make it constructive. If your comment is rude, we will delete it. If you are constantly negative or a general pest, troll, or hater, we will ban you from the site forever. The definition of terms is left solely up to us. Thank you. Carry on.

17 Responses »

  1. May i suggest you do a musical about UGLY BROWN "PALM TREES"?

    I am sure people who supported them (there must be many?), would be right there with financial, and other (political?) help as needed.

    Thank you for your article, i also hope the tale has a HAPPY ENDING! :-)

    (unlike HILLTOP DRIVE VIEW).:-(

  2. Nice article. Hopefully someone who is enlightened will find a way to bring "Xanadu" out of the "storage warehouse" (i.e. bank vault!)

    bc

  3. Dean,

    It isn't often that the arts and money-maker are linked. Anyone who calls themselves fiscally conservative (i.e. "bean counter") ought to think twice before cancelling a money-making theatre project. Maybe minds can be changed or embarrassed into changing.

  4. Dean, Thanks for the informative read - and no, I didn't hear about last year's play! Sorry to have missed it. All the arts are suffering at Shasta from what? -lack of interest on the part of administrators?

    It's my understanding the school owns many wonderful, but not seen, art acquisitions from many years past. How long does this stuff get parked and shut away before it deteriorates? That may not be a moneymaker in itself, but would bring interest and attention to the college.

    Thanks for your efforts.

    LR

  5. Dean,

    You make so many, MANY valid points. How many well documented studies from places like Harvard and Johns Hopkins and European institutions do we have to stack on the desks of the bean counters before our society finally realizes the academic value of the arts. We're talking tangible results here, folks. Not some nebulous, pie-in-the-sky rationale. Then, on top of that, there's all those things you said above.

    Thank you, Dean and Dr.Waterbury and Larry an all those who toil in the various fields of the arts. Our society now and future owes you all a debt of great magnitude.

  6. One of the many reasons why I ended up going to a community college that wasn't Shasta College, and why despite being one of 27 in my high school class that didn't want to leave Shasta County I now have to work in San Francisco. Folks in Redding seem to always want it to be more like some where else, yet sadly they only ever seem to bring the crappy parts and quash the good parts of what was already here.

  7. The Summer Theater Festival used to be a huge deal at Shasta College. There would be at least two and usually three big productions during the summer that paid for the rest of the years shows and then some. Students and community actors who starred in the plays did the set building, prop making, and costume creating under the guidance of paid professionals. For insurance purposes all actors were required to enroll in classes whether they were intending to further their education or not. So the college got income from tuition, the actors did the work and money was made. Now all art programs are in danger. There are no art classes offered by Shasta College this summer and they are trying to cut them out entirely. What I find most confusing is the fact that there are several huge projects being funded in Redding to make us more "cultured" and "tourist friendly" at the same time. So we end up with a bunch of flippin palm trees down Hilltop which frankly are a danger to the pedestrians who cross the road in designated crosswalks that are obscured by said trees. Why trees but no theater? Every year we would build an outdoor stage to have a play. Now there is the permanent stage that goes unused year after year. I think we need to fund our theaters before we install another eagle sculpture down the median of Hwy 44. I think it is most ironic that the county strives to fill our town with art and sculpture from outside sources and then cuts funding to our local art programs. It doesn't add up. True the funding comes from different departments but obviously some departments have too much $$ to waste while others don't have enough.

  8. Good article Dean. Sad story so far...I am awaiting the HAPPY (FUNDING) ENDING.

    I will piggyback a link for your article on my website.

    CURSE YOU, BEAN COUNTERS...with itchy, burning hives and a rash.

  9. This article and discussion is truly educational. I would like to make some observations. Teachers in the arts at any level of education put in more time and work with students than any other teachers. Actors and singers like Bette Middler, Merele Streep, Johnny Depp, and Helen Hunt (just throwing out names of people who have succeeded at their craft) weren't born actors or singers. They studied hard. They make what they do look easy, but it isn't. Lastly, the studies that Adrienne Jacoby mentions prove that a student's participation in the arts increases their chance of succeeding in math and science classes.

    • When you engage the left brain and the right brain with the whole body, invest your emotions, focus all these together with the kind of social interaction such as takes place in a theater project, how can it help but affect every other area of your life? YES, the arts act synergistically with everything else you do and have the potential to improve every other area of your life. Except algebra.

    • There is definitely some preference shown toward the sciences, but what the sciences may have in funding they lack in freedom & flexibility. Ultimately I think it goes back to Dean's observation that colleges are increasingly being run by people trying to make a business out of education.

      That might not be so terrible if college administrators tailored the "business" to their actual customers (the students paying tuition & the society whose taxes fill in the gaps), but most colleges place too much emphasis on pandering to government bureaucracies and accreditation boards -- all so the greatest number of students can meet some arbitrary minimum standard and receive an ever depreciating stamp of approval (The Trustees of the California State University on recommendation of the faculty have conferred upon thee the eligibility to work for Enterprise Rent-A-Car.)

  10. Very nice article. Makes ya think. I don't know much about SC finances but I do wish I knew more about what goes on at the college. Seems their events and projects get skipped by me completely. Do the people putting on the plays and music events ---even sporting events--do they send out press releases to all the media outlets? Seems like 100 miles between Redding and the SC campus. Maybe new admin will bridge that gap. Thanks.

  11. Great article Dean. The college summer theatre festival changed my life and probably even saved it one particular summer. I also remember two years we produced TWO musicals and two plays. The festival provided me with an opportunity to experiement and grow as a director and choreographer. When I do visit the college during summer I can't help but feel a bit sad at the lack of activity happening there. I also feel like our community of young artists have been a bit cheated by not having the opporunity I did as a kid at Shasta College. Yes in Redding there are the old and new opportunities for people who wish to perform, but the number of people the college use to bring together all at one time and place was a special experience and an energy that can't be replaced. I only hope for this tradition to return for the community.

  12. There is a wealth of literature and study results available on learning outcomes and Arts education and the positive affects the Arts have on academic and intellectual development at ALL ages and levels in society...perhaps the administrators of Shasta College need to be reminded publicly, as they seem to have forgotten (I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt in assuming that they have in fact learned this) that The Arts are not just extracurricular and therefore expendable but in fact extremely integral to the overall intellectual, academic and health of our entire community...after all, when we solve problems creatively (and there have been plenty of studies that show that individuals who are exposed to the Arts are indeed better problem solvers as well) everyone benefits...I say it's high time we call a few individuals out on this issue...lets ask them what they envision for the future our community...after all their salaries are paid with our tax dollars and Shasta College is in fact a PUBLIC institution. Thanks for writing this Dean!

  13. Great article, Dean. I was out of the country and didn't get a chance to respond in a more timely manner to the thread.

    I like Geunn's idea of asking the administration to explain why they cut the summer offerings. The Vocal Institute has been in existence for 10 years. Each year the program taught 40 or so students the basics of singing and classical music vocal technique. We have launched the careers of several important young artists who are at this very moment singing on international stages! It has taken my husband and I years to create this program, and the administration wiped it out. Considering the importance of creating bridges for low income rural kids to get to a 4-year college, it seems very foolish to throw away something like the Institute. Every body is going nuts about Megan Rapinoe, the soccer player, but what about Sydney Mancasola, who comes from Redding and just won the concerto competition at Oberlin College? Dash Waterbury, who is singing at the Teatro Nuovo theater in Spoleto, Italy?

  14. I certainly hope we haven't come to the point where we are actually questioning whether or not art is "frivolous" and "self-serving."

    A Juilliard conservatory alum, and fantastically "successful" musician friend of mine was lamenting to me the other day about how one of his relatives was making better money as a sunglasses salesperson than he was as the artistic director of the opera department at a reputable music conservatory. It really does amaze me what we value in this country. How is an arts scene supposed to survive in a place like Redding? It has been my experience that there is certainly no lack of talent or interest!!!

    Recently I have gained a new perspective on the lack of support for the arts that has troubled me since I was a kid, trying to wear in my character shoes on the Redding stages.

    Here it is: In the past few months alone, I have found myself at over a dozen "donor" events, chatting with potential supporters, singing, and even selling raffle tickets to a slew of art enthusiasts. More often than not, the General Director of whatever company I happen to be working for is in attendance, working the crowd and presenting his/her "product" in an organized and intelligent way that brings in the revenue for the season of his/her company. I don't always get paid for these gigs, but frankly, I don't care because I know that these donors are really the people who make it all happen.

    Performance art has ALWAYS depended on the "Impresario". So get out your check books Redding! If you want to see fantastic theater, it's going to cost more than the price of the ticket. But it's worth it!!!

  15. I'm remembering a certain summer employment program for youth in which I was involved a few years ago, and the tempest in a teapot that was created over doing arts projects (murals and a play) with some of the youth. Mind you, no one had a problem seeing workforce preparation in projects that had kids pulling weeds all summer - but art? How could that possibly be employment related? Thank heaven for a wonderful middle manager who "got it." Those kids thought, drew, wrote, measured, designed, worked as a team, organized, memorized and performed, to name just a few "transferable" skills. But more importantly, many of them saw for the first time that work could be a source of something more than minimum wage: inspiration, insight, self-actualization, and personal satisfaction. It seems to me we keep removing from schools the very things that inspire kids to engage with the world and create the desire to learn.

693 views

Tagged as: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Recent Comments - from all stories on A News Cafe

Please support local journalism on A News Cafe. Thank you!


© A News Cafe.com, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

Page optimized by WP Minify WordPress Plugin