April 17, 2012

Department of Theatre, Film and Dance Revamp Gets Mixed Reviews

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After the University announced in the fall that the individual majors of theater, film and dance will be consolidated into a single performing arts major next year, some students have expressed dissatisfaction with the imminent elimination of  the distinct degrees.

The Department of Theatre, Film and Dance announced its new Performing and Media Arts major in November, heralding the program as a symbol of the “collaborative spirit of our department’s three areas and [reflective of] the changing nature of our fields and professions.”

The change in the curriculum comes after last year’s $1 million cut in funding to the Dance, Theatre and Film budget. Prof. Amy Villarejo, theatre, film, and dance, and the chair of the department, told The Sun in November that the loss in funding pushed the department to restructure to compensate for lost resources. She said a smaller staff was one of the reasons for consolidating the three majors into one.

“We [lost] a lot in our department because our budget was cut so drastically,” said Prof. Byron Suber, dance.

Some students in the department said they worry that the new change will detract from the Schwartz Center’s appeal to incoming students next year.

“I fear that prospective students will be discouraged from engaging in a curriculum that does not give full credence, or even a title, to a specific study,” Claire Babilonia ’12, a dance major, said in an email.

Jenna Bryant ’12, a film major who came to Cornell undecided about what course of study to pursue, echoed Babilonia’s concerns.

“If I had gotten here and the film major hadn’t existed, I don’t think I would have chosen the new performing arts major,” she said.

However, Suber, a member of the new Performing and Media Arts curriculum committee, said  he does not believe that the change in the name of the program is misleading.

“Cornell is not a conservatory, so people don’t come here to get a dance degree … They come here to study dance,” Suber said.

Yet Babilonia countered Suber’s statements, saying that the dance major was an important factor in her decision to attend Cornell.

“I know that I would never have come to Cornell had they not offered a dance major,” she said.

Still, Suber cited the advantages of offering what he called a more inclusive major.

“If anything, [the new major] will attract people because now a collaborative curriculum exists and they get to study what they want to study,” he said.

Jesse Turk ’14, a theater major who plans to switch into the new Performing and Media Arts major, echoed this sentiment.

“For me, the [new curriculum] opens up a wide variety of classes that I wouldn’t have been able to use for my [former] major,” Turk said.

Chandler Waggoner ’15, however, said he will declare a theater major over the PMA until he makes a decision about which to ultimately pursue. As students can still declare a theatre, film or dance major, this is the final year Waggoner will be able to declare a theater major, while he will retain the option to switch to the PMA in the future, he reasoned.

Emma Shalaway ’13, who is majoring in American studies with an concentration in film, said she feels the new structure may allow for more collaboration between students.

“I think you can learn a lot from people who have a stronger background in other disciplines,” Shalaway said. “[It creates] a more cohesive group.”

Turk added that he believes the new major’s emphasis on all three areas of theatre, film and dance will better prepare students for graduate programs and jobs after Cornell.

“I think it actually reflects the progression of where performance art is going in the world,” he said.

According to Suber, who said he views the change as a “complete positive,” the new curriculum demonstrates a “big effort” by each department to incorporate more cross-listed courses.

Despite mixed opinions about the changes, Suber said the process to revise to the curriculum was “extremely transparent.”

Babilonia echoed this sentiment.

“From personal experience, the department has actively reached out to current TFD students and majors for their input throughout this process, and it seems as if they truly want to streamline the major without threatening or challenging the integrity of study,” she said.

For Bryant, however, the changes have made it clear where the “University’s priorities lie.”

“They’re telling us this will give students more flexibility and they’ll have more classes to choose from, but it’s kind of obvious that that’s just a front for them to give Schwartz and the film, theater, dance students less funding,” she said.

Bryant said that in the wake of cuts and consolidations, there is “a feeling of unease that surrounds” members of the Schwartz community.

“People are uncertain with their place here and their future here,” she said.

The new major is one part of the restructuring of the Department of Theatre, Film and Dance since the University cut about $1 million from the department’s budget in spring 2010. Several of these changes will be implemented in fall 2012.

The overwhelming majority of professors contacted for this story either did not respond or declined to comment on the issue.

Original Author: Shane Dunau