Silverfish, vagrants and actors, oh my!

By and

Editor’s note: This is the first installment in a two-part series on the Performing Arts Building. Part two will be printed March 1.

Crawling on the same floor as silverfish, sharing a bathroom with transients and sitting in sweltering rooms heated for the cold of winter during the warmth of spring-such are the daily activities of a theater major at the U.

Theater majors of all emphases often refer to the Performing Arts Building-or PAB as it is affectionately called-as their home, and rightfully so.

With classes throughout the day and rehearsals and performances taking place well into the evening, students may spend nearly 12 hours per day in the building, up to six days a week.

The inclusion of locker rooms and a smelly minifridge help to establish the concept that students within the theater department truly do “live” in PAB.

Unlike a clean, hospitable, comfortable environment that most people would desire in their living quarters, PAB offers no such qualities to its students.

Instead, the building is infested with bugs, serves as a retreat for homeless people and offers an appearance evocative of the underside of a couch that has not been swept free of dust bunnies in years.

Stacey Hull, a third-year U student and freshman in the Actor Training Program, has developed a rather unsanitary view of PAB since her enrollment in the ATP.

Room 110, the largest of the PAB classrooms, is the location of ATP acting classes, where students remove footwear and are occasionally given exercises that require movement or relaxation practices on the floor.

“I didn’t really notice how disgusting the floor was until after class, when I looked at my feet and they were completely black,” Hull said. “There are dust bunnies, and I’ll see silverfish on the floor. We are supposed to be in a space where we are able to be on the floor and do different relaxation techniques, and it’s kind of hard to do when you’re in a space that’s not taken care of.”

“As much as we’d like to pretend that the ubiquitous silverfish are cute little pets, or better yet, minions that we are training to take over the world, it’s really a matter of morale over anything else,” said Steve Unwin, a senior ATP student.

“In four years, I have never felt like the state of PAB has endangered me in any way-save, possibly, having to work in the “old lab” which tends to be littered with detritus-but the simple fact that members of the ATP must spend five to six days a week in a building of this condition–it’s simply disheartening sometimes,” Unwin said.

Try taking midterm exams in a classroom that is so hot from a faulty heating system that students immediately strip out of their jackets, scarves and long sleeves and prop open not only the front and back classroom doors but the nearest PAB entrance door as well in hopes of catching a slight breath of air before their bluebooks are doused in sweat or they pass out from heat exhaustion.

“I suppose I could afford to sweat out a couple of pounds so I can fit into the cute little two-piece I just got,” Unwin said.

In fairness to the furnace, excessive heat is not always the case. Sometimes the heating system does not function at all.

Assistant Professor Sydney Cheek O’Donnell sent an e-mail advisory to students in her history of theater course in late January, stating, “I have just been informed that due to a burst pipe, the heat will be off in our classroom tomorrow. Please make sure you bring a warm jacket or sweater with you to class so you don’t freeze to death.”

The ever-present heating system complications also amplify another less-than-ideal aspect of PAB: the bathrooms.

“Some enjoy the delicate scent of urinal cakes as it wafts through the stalls, bringing them back to their elementary school days,” Unwin said. “These people would simply love PAB during the winter, when the heat manages to circulate every little scent from the door-less bathrooms around the entirety of the building.”

“All this humble actor requests are doors,” he said. “Doors that close. Doors that lock at night. This would stop both vandalism and our issue with transients using the PAB bathrooms.”

“Because the building has to remain open at many odd hours due to rehearsals, we have a homeless-person ?problem,” said Jeanette “Tillie” Wilber, the head of marketing and communication within the department.

“There are locker rooms and showers here, which are quite ?enticing to the homeless. We also have one fellow who is very fond of this building and ‘marks his territory’ in the same way dogs do-although he often has the courtesy to pee in a cup or other container and leave it in various places. Hence the unfortunate smell at times,” Wilber said.

“I think it would be foolhardy for me to assume that ours is the only building to have an issue with vagrants,” Unwin said. “Nevertheless, it is an issue, primarily with our stage managers, who often times spend long, late hours in the building.”

“I would like to be more sympathetic to the plight of the homeless, but our tax dollars have built shelters, and when those are neglected in favor of the building that I practically live in, I feel a stand must be taken,” he said.

“I’ve heard that a homeless person was living in the boys’ bathroom and stealing things,” Hull said.

“I trust everyone in the theater department enough to leave my backpack in the locker room and go to acting class, but I don’t feel safe after?hearing that anyone can just come into our building and take whatever they want,” she said.

There have been accounts of theft taking place in the landing of the building’s south stairwell, which functions as a student lounge.

“Our student lounge looks like we picked up a couch from the D.I. and shoved it in a corner next to a microwave and a small, little refrigerator that homeless people like to steal food out of,” Hull said.

“The ?walls everywhere are pretty dinged and scarred, and I understand that ?because they were painted about seven years ago we are not due for new? paint for a few more years,” Wilber said.

As classes and performances call for theater majors to remain in PAB for so many hours of the day, students often catch a few minutes of rest by sleeping on the couch in the landing.

“I don’t think the cushions have ever been vacuumed-at all,” Hull said. “Everyone who’s sick likes to especially chill out in the student lounge. That couch is full of germs.”

Adding to the ambiance of the stairwell landing-which is the only area in which students can gather-are ant, cockroach and silverfish traps behind the couch, Hull said.

While the noticeably grimy couch is enough to make some students cringe, its social appeal still stands out.

“This is one aspect that I hope would carry over into a new building,” Unwin said. “If I could fantasize, I’m glad to say that I would keep it just how it is. We have squishy couches, a minifridge, a microwave and an endless stream of people going by-actors love people, remember? There are worse ways to spend your only free minutes out of a 12-hour day.”

Unwin said PAB is like “a silly little creature with a face and problems only a mother could love.”

“I love it dearly and have become accustomed to its little ins and outs,” he said. “Nevertheless, if we are trying to establish the acting program here as one of importance and prestige, improvements must be made.”

Unwin, who auditioned for the U’s theater program in Chicago, came to the U in good faith without ever seeing the theater department’s facilities, he said.

“Now that I’ve been through the entire department, I can honestly say that I was not disappointed,” he said. “But there will be kids who will fly in to check things out before they enroll, and not everybody will be as laid back as I was about the conditions in the building.”

Lennie Mahler

Lennie Mahler

Lennie Mahler

Lennie Mahler

Lennie Mahler