In the face of decreasing theatre budgets, students hope to keep productions free
It’s not just students that are broke these days. It’s entire departments, too.
Courtesy $23,173 in budget cuts since 2005, the University of Regina’s theatre department’s budget has been reduced from $62,044 to its current budget of $38,871 – a reduction of almost 40 per cent over seven years. In the face of slashed budgets, the Department of Theatre must make serious changes to avoid exhausting its already-meager finances. The shows must go on, after all.
Dave Button, U of R Vice-President of administration, said that the problem of decreasing department budgets isn’t dealt with at an administrative level, and that, in fact, faculty budgets have been increasing.
“I can’t speak to the specific amount of cuts seen at the departmental level,” Button said, “But there’s definitely been challenges over the past number of years. I wouldn’t describe them necessarily as any department being cut … every faculty has actually had an increase in budget.
“Technically there haven’t been cuts. There might be a couple of exceptions, but I can’t recall. Definitely not at the faculty level … I can’t speak at the individual department level, but there might have been what I’d call small discretionary budget impacts.”
Last year, the department of theatre forwarded a request for $2,500 to the University of Regina Students’ Union (URSU) to help subsidize the cost of its shows so the department could continue to offer the shows at no cost to students. The request was approved, and the four shows the department performs per year remained free. The department forwarded a similar request this year, but according to Faculty of Fine Arts Students’ Association (FASA) board director Shelby Lowe, the request hasn’t been met.
“Well, we tried. Kathleen [Irwin, head of the theatre department] sent them an e-mail or a letter and then she was told that only students could submit that sort of request, I believe,” Lowe said. “So then Tyler [Toppings], president of the TSA [Theatre Students Association], sent in the same one, and we never got a response, and then he sent it in again, and still did not get a response. He sent it to [URSU President] Kent [Peterson].”
Peterson said he invited Toppings to make a presentation at the Oct. 4 board meeting last semester, but Toppings was unavailable, and the board meeting ended up getting postponed for other reasons.
Following this, Peterson said he “certainly did not receive any correspondence relating to making a presentation at another board meeting, since those requests should be made to our board chair – not to myself.”
Peterson also clarified that, theoretically, only one request was actually sent for an URSU sponsorship, wherein the fall semester of this year was covered under the approval of former URSU president Kyle Addison last year.
“I did receive an email from Tyler Toppings recently and I have forwarded it to our vice-president of operations and finance, Haanim Nur, who is responsible for all matter relating to sponsorship,” Peterson said. “The two requests for sponsorship was actually just one request, and it has been forwarded to the appropriate individual. Very few requests for sponsorship are ever denied, and absolutely zero requests would ever be ignored.”
But Toppings said he “never received anything from [Peterson]” in terms of being invited to make a presentation at any of the URSU board meetings and insists he didn’t receive a response from Peterson.
“I made the request and didn’t get a response from him … I have no idea when the board meetings are, and I’ve got rehearsal and things like that, so I haven’t been to a board meeting, and that could very well be the issue,” Toppings said.
In the event of the theatre department not receiving a sponsorship from URSU, FASA has started a petition to implement a semesterly student fee of twenty-five cents for both part-time and full-time students to help cover the cost of theatre productions. Jordan Palmer, URSU Fine Arts director, said the petition’s creation was “a group effort” brought about by FASA.
Palmer hopes to receive 650 signatures, which equates to a bit more than five per cent of the students enrolled at the University of Regina. At the time of press, Palmer said the petition has roughly 140 signatures.
If the fee is implemented, it would mean roughly an additional $3,000 for theatre productions per semester. This fee would go strictly to theatre productions and not elsewhere in the department in order to keep students from paying the $10 to $15 ticket price that is charged to the general public.
“All students, regardless of faculty, would have to pay twenty-five cents,” Palmer said. “It would be a student admission fee. Basically, that twenty-five cents would go towards the theatre productions; it doesn’t go towards the faculty. Those funds would go towards covering the cost of the tickets as well as to help sustain and possibly enhance the quality of the productions … If they’re a student enrolled at the U of R … all they have to do is show their student ID card.”
Should the petition and consequent student fee fail, however, students will have to pay the same ticket prices as the general public currently does.
“If this petition fails, the ramifications are that students would have to pay 10 to 15 dollars per production starting next semester,” Palmer said.
But according to Palmer, the defeat of this fee would mean more than charging students admission to attend theatre productions.
“Some … profs will make [students] go see a theatre production to do a theatre review,” Palmer said. “I can see, if this fee does not go through, students complaining, ‘I have to pay … in order to do an assignment.’ They would complain and say, ‘This is ridiculous’. I think it would be ridiculous to pay $15 to see something that you have to do homework on.”
Moreover, Irwin wrote in an e-mail that “Theatre Department shows are fully performed and designed by students,” which means that they’re an important learning tool for students on both sides of the proscenium arch.
The main issue that arises from this entire situation is who is left to foot the bill when a department is under-funded; should students have to, or should the money be coming from somewhere else?
“Effectively what [an URSU sponsorship] means is the university would be taking an extra $5,000 (based on $2,500 per semester) out of the pockets of students and putting it towards its own operating budget,” Peterson wrote in an e-mail. “This is concerning for a number of reasons, chief among them the fact that students are already contributing to the university’s operating budget – it’s called tuition …
“If the university starts relying on additional fees and sponsorship from students to subsidize its theatre department, it is a very slippery slope to do the same for any number of things in any number of other university departments. The university needing student sponsorship to fund its theatre department is a direct result of under-funding from our provincial government.”
Peterson believes there are other ways of rectifying the situation.
“What the Theatre Students Association and the Fine Arts Student Association should do is lobby the university to perhaps cut some administration expenses, and add an extra $5,000 into the Theatre Department’s budget so the performances can still be enjoyed by students with no additional fee,” Peterson said.
Students seem to have mixed feelings on this fee. One of the concerns being that many students don’t attend the productions anyways.
“I’d be cool with [the twenty-five cent fee],” said second-year biochemistry student Tava Burton. “Wait, is my tuition being raised? [Groans] Yeah, I think I’d be OK with that … but I’d never go. Maybe I’d say no. I don’t really go anyways.”
“It’s literally a quarter; I will give you the quarter,” second-year arts student Dayna Galger retorted. “Your tuition is thousands of dollars. That’s an extra twenty-five cents.”