September 22, 2011

With Smaller Staff, Theater, Film and Dance Dept. Cuts Dance Major

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Correction Appended

The Department of Theater, Film and Dance will no longer offer a major solely in dance, and the fate of majors in film and theater are in question, according to department chair Amy Villarejo.The department currently offers separate majors in each of the three disciplines, but significant cuts to the non-professorial budget have led faculty to restructure the department to compensate for lost resources, Villarejo said.The cuts, around $1 million in total, were handed down by the College of Arts and Sciences in spring 2010. Villarejo said the dean asked the department to create a new model that could function with the impact of the lost funding.According to Villarejo, current majors will be able to complete their degrees, but this year will likely be the last in which student can declare singular majors in either theatre, film or dance. The old majors will likely be phased out as the department works to generate curricula for new ones, she said.One of the biggest factors accounting for these changes, according to Villarejo, is the diminished staff.“We are mourning the losses of our colleagues,” Villarejo said. “Certainly, there is no longer the infrastructure for the kind of model of professional, regional theater we were able to sustain for about 20 years, and that is a loss.”While the department cut only staff positions and did not lose any faculty positions, Villarejo said fewer resources have pushed productions in a new direction, with a heavier emphasis on student work. She said the idea behind the new model is to integrate the distinctive disciplinary areas within the department and better enable the connections between theory and practice in the classroom and production.“The new curriculum will be a synthesis of what we already teach,” Villarejo said. “It will depend on what faculty expertise we have to draw upon. But the hope is to make it more navigable, more flexible.”While the new model is the product of faculty collaboration, not all faculty members are satisfied with the changes the department has made in response to funding cutbacks.“The recent budget and staff cuts have resulted in a profound reduction in the quantity and quality of fully-produced, live theater productions,” Prof. Kent Goetz, resident scene designer, stated in an email Thursday.Goetz said that the department has offered six fully-produced plays and one fully-produced original dance concert each year for the past two decades. This year, according to Goetz, the performance schedule includes only two fully-produced plays with reduced budgets, in addition to an assortment of other performance-based events requiring increased student leadership.“The experiences will simply be ‘different’ from those in the past,” Goetz wrote.According to Juliana Kleist-Mendez ’12, a College Scholar with a theater concentration, the new structure of the department will help bridge the barriers between students in theatre, film and dance.“Before, there were very clear divisions between the students of theatre, film and dance,” Kleist-Mendez said. “The way that the new model has been communicated to us is as a way for us as a department to break down barriers and work together — and to invite the Cornell community to work with us.”Changes to the calendar of major events and productions for the 2011-2012 year also reflect the department’s new focus on integration within and beyond the department.Kleist-Mendez, who will become the first female director of a main stage production at the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts in November, said the new department model has led to a greater emphasis on student artists.Student participation extends to some of the decision-making in shaping the new structure of the department. Five students currently sit on the Performance and Events Committee, tasked with diversifying the theater season schedule to compliment the updated curriculum.“The calendar will include guest lectures, film screenings and mixed media productions in addition to main stage theatrical productions,” Kleist-Mendez said.Villarejo said the budget cuts have curtailed what the department can do in the areas of dance and theater, but department members are working hard to maintain an ambitious performance schedule going forward.“We want this to be the best combined and dynamic department in performance and media in the Ivy League,” Villarejo said. “The face of the department is going to look quite different in 10 years.”

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly quoted Juliana Kleist-Mendez ’12 as saying, “The calendar will not include guest lectures, film screenings and mixed media productions in addition to main stage theatrical productions.” In fact, the new Performance and Events calendar will include these.

Original Author: Rebecca Harris