April 19, 2011

Amid Budget Cuts, Theatre, Film and Dance Department Receives $1 Million Donation

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As the Department of Theatre, Film and Dance works to slash its operating budget by at least $1 million by July 1, the University announced Monday a $1 million donation from Carol Epstein ’61 to support the department’s professional artists-in-residence program.

The department has not yet decided how it will use the endowment, which will be built over time, according to Senior Department Manager Charles Fay.

“This is exciting news, although the exact decision-making structure has not been worked out,” he said.

The department still plans to reduce the number of Resident Professional Teaching Associates — actors who visit the University to tutor and mentor — from six to three this fall, according to Fay. Epstein’s donation could help fund RPTAs for next academic year, who have yet to be chosen, or could go toward something entirely different.

If the University does use the gift to hire RPTAs, the department would likely pair the endowment with previously allotted funding sources, according to Fay.

From the 2008-09 academic year to 2010-11, the department has lost six “professionals in the area of theater,” three and a third senior lecturer positions, a box office coordinator and marketing assistant and at least one resident program teaching assistant position, Chair of the Department Prof. Amy Villarejo, theatre, told The Sun in the fall.

Faculty welcomed the support for the theatre department.

“We knew we had to find alternative revenue sources to continue this essential program,” said Prof. Nick Salvato, English and theatre, film and dance. “We didn’t know how that was going to work, though, and were hopeful something like this would happen.”

“The donation will help us formulate a guest-artist program that will serve the new interdisciplinary model of the department with directors, producers, dancers and editors,” said Prof. David Feldshuh, theatre, artistic director of Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts.

Salvato said he expects “discussion and collaboration” within the department as they decide upon artists to bring to campus.

While at Cornell, Epstein majored in speech and drama, an early theater program housed in Rand Hall. She said that with her upcoming 50th reunion this June, she wanted to give back to the school because it had given her so much.

“I’m excited for professionals who have made their names in the working world to collaborate hands-on with students,” Epstein said. “I just wish I could do my major over now.”

Epstein originally worked in journalism before becoming an attorney for the U.S. State Department. She retired this past year.

“People say how different speech and drama is from litigation, but it’s really not,” Epstein said. “If you want to be a lawyer, take acting classes, because we live in a multi-disciplinary world where you need skills that go beyond the pre-professional.”

Students applauded the donation and affirmed the importance of the RPTA program.

“These types of opportunities make our small program unique,” Skyler Schain ’13 said.

Although Schain is a government major, he said he has benefited from the RPTA program. Earlier this semester, Schain acted in a three-person production titled The Author’s Voice that was directed by current RPTA Michael Kaplan.

“It provided an indescribably valuable experience to learn the craft from someone who knows what it’s like to be a student and a professional,” he said.

Other students echoed the positive sentiment.

“It’s a really generous gift and will be a great opportunity for students in the future,” said Talia Siegel ’13, who participated in Dance, Drama and the Disco of Desire at the Schwartz Center in March of 2010.

“This is really some good news that’ll enhance the department after a series of difficulties,” said Allison Hartel ’13, a film major.

This academic year, the number of shows at the Schwartz Center has dropped from six to four.

Prof. Villarejo could not be reached for comment.

Original Author: Dan Robbins