September 12, 2010

Letter to the Editor: TFD Restructuring Devalues Practice

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To the Editor:

Re: “In Wake of Cuts, Performing Arts Face Upheaval From Within, Faculty Say” News, Sept. 9

As a graduate of Cornell’s Theater, Film, and Dance Department, I’m disturbed by the information presented in the recent Sun article, which made it clear that a concrete plan for the department’s future has yet to take shape. While such a plan is still in the development stage, it’s important for those in charge not to lose sight of the linchpin of theatre education: performance.Theatre at its most basic is performance by actors in front of an audience. How, then, can a theatre department claim to educate its students without presenting those students with the opportunity to perform? And I don’t just mean performance that evolves out of class activities. New work is best created when its creators have an understanding of preceding work. In the theatre, such understanding is bred by exposure to and experience with live performances of canonical plays. These plays need not be lavishly designed, either; there is a middle ground between bare-bones developmental pieces and the large-scale productions that the Schwartz Center has produced in the past. That middle ground needs to be explored. The production of mainstage plays must not be abandoned simply because design elements will be reduced. (I’ve seen great Shakespeare done with a spotlight and three or four chairs.)Production should not be a servant to the “curriculum” either. The department should welcome students from all areas to risk, explore and imagine onstage, not just in class. And if the department wants to attract more students to its program, it must provide those students with the opportunity not just to study, but to practice. The value of that practice must not be overlooked.

Barrie Kreinik ’07