April 3, 2011

Despite Cuts, The Pillowman Must Go On

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Correction appended

After the Theatre, Film and Dance department cut two of its six productions — Frost/Nixon and The Pillowman — due to budget cuts and staff reductions, members of Cornell’s Theater Club rallied to put on this weekend’s production of The Pillowman, according to Prof. Bruce Levitt, theatre, who guided the group.

“I did not think this was going to be a possibility,” said James Miller ’12, who performed the role of Ariel in the play. “The other [cancelled] show, Frost/Nixon, never became a reality.”

Levitt said he cut Frost/Nixon and The Pillowman because they had the smallest casts. He was open, however, to the idea of producing the show when students approached him to do so later that year.

President of the Theater Club Aaron Sprecher ’11 and Myles Rowland ’11, who played Katurian in The Pillowman, asked Levitt if they could put on The Pillowman at another location, separate from the Theatre, Film and Dance department, Rowland said. Levitt agreed, and together they booked Risley Hall for the performance.

The students performed the play with funds raised through the Theater Club, a new student organization co-founded this year by Rowland and Sprecher.

“Myles was the first person to get on board. He and Bruce brought us all into the project, because everyone was so in love with the script,” Miller said.

Through the Theater Club, Sprecher successfully applied for SAFC funding and Levitt received a grant from Cornell Council of the Arts. Additionally, the group secured private donations, Miller said.

Although the cast did not perform on the Schwartz stage, Miller said they used the Schwartz Center’s space for rehearsals and had access to some of its services. With funds from the Theater Club, the cast rented props and costumes and paid for the materials for the sets.

Rowland said he was pleased with the location and thought it attracted people who might not have attended otherwise.

“I like how intimate the Risley Theater is. Any time I get to go to one of the performances there, I try to go,” said Alexa Hilmer ’13, who attended the show on Saturday.

“We were able to put together a fully polished production on a smaller budget without too many noticeable differences,” Miller said.

Of all the community collaborations, Ithaca College’s Theatre Production class had the most involvement and the biggest role in the Cornell production. IC students ran the marketing and front-of-the-house operations for The Pillowman, according to Juliet Greenblatt, one of the project leads and a senior in the class.

“We’re in charge of coordinating everything and making sure everything happens,” Greenblatt said.

The Theatre Production class set a budget for the production, made the posters for the event and sold tickets on the website, Brownpapertickets.com.

Although Greenblatt said the production class seldom interacted with the actors, she appreciated the moments they did share.

“It’s great to meet people from Cornell because we don’t always get to do that,” she said.

Like many students, faculty and residents throughout Ithaca, Greenblatt emphasized her respect for the students who fought to produce The Pillowman.

“Out of this economic turmoil came great theater … It is so inspiring to see, ‘You know what? Fine! We’ll do it on our own,’” she said. “I have nothing but good things to say. It has been a crazy and absolutely wonderful ride on this project.”

Levitt echoed Greenblatt’s sentiments.

“This should be a thing about the students. It was their initiative, energy and insistence that really brought this about,” he said.

Looking to the future, Levitt expressed concern about the availability of department resources for student productions.

“I don’t know what will happen in the future. … I hope there will be funding sources in the future for the Theater Club,” he said. Due to the redesigning of the Cornell Council of the Arts, Levitt noted that grants he applied for for The Pillowman will be phased out in a few years.

In the meantime, Levitt said the department must adjust how it produces shows. In light of losing two of its Actors’ Equity  performers in residence this year, Levitt stressed the importance of working with professional actors living in Ithaca.

“Taking some of our outstanding students and doing smaller productions with our professional actors might be a model we can continue,” he said.

Miller remains optimistic about the club’s future.

“I look forward to more on campus artistic collaboration and cooperation,” he said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Theater Club paid Schwartz Center staff for the services they provided for The Pillowman production. In fact, the Theater Club rented the props and costumes and paid for the materials for the sets. Additionally, the article reported that Prof. Bruce Levitt, theatre, chose to cut Frost/Nixon and The Pillowman, but in fact, Prof. David Feldshuh, theatre, approached him with the idea of cutting Frost/Nixon and The Pillowman, and he agreed.

Original Author: Margo Cohen Ristorucci