In search of better facilities

By and

Editor’s note: This is the second installment in a two-part series about the Performing Arts Building.

“We need a new building — bad,” said Aaron Buckner, a junior in the Actor Training Program.

The Performing Arts Building, home to the U theater department, was built in 1920. Back then, it served as the campus cafeteria and later it became the geology storage building, said Bob Nelson, theater department chairman.

The building was remodeled in 1938, but it was not turned into the Performing Arts Building until 1986, when Pioneer Theatre Company moved into the department’s previous home, Pioneer Memorial Theatre.

“I came in here as a new department chair with three goals, and one of them was a new building,” said Nelson, who has been the theater department chairman for a year and a half.

In addition to the regular issues of silverfish, intrusions of homeless people due to a lack of carded entry, holes in the wall, broken pipes and a faulty heating system, PAB is insufficient in matters of size and space.

Students, faculty and staff of the theater department are spread out among three separate buildings on campus. Although PAB is the official building for the department, it simply does not offer enough space.

Students looking to find a professor’s office must sift through offices located in PAB, the Babcock Theatre and the West Institute, which is located at 170 S. University Street. Classes of all types are held in each of these three buildings, as not a single one has enough space for all the classes the department offers.

“The greatest problem caused by our being split among three buildings is that students and faculty don’t see each other as often as we need to,” Nelson said. “There are faculty and staff that I wouldn’t see for weeks on end if we didn’t have a meeting, or if I didn’t wander over to their building or if they didn’t wander over to this building.”

For a discipline as creative and hands-on as dramatic art, the department’s facilities do not provide an adequate environment for communication.

“Running into each other and rubbing shoulders together frequently provides opportunities for collegial interaction and collaboration,” Nelson said. “We need the faculty, staff and students to be housed under one roof to increase unity and to more fully reach our educational goals and prepare for professional opportunities.”

“We are a very prodigious program, and we deserve better than this,” said Nick Bayne, a senior in the Actor Training Program.

A common complication due to a shortage of space arises when multiple theater productions are simultaneously in rehearsal and performance–an almost constant occurrence.

Students in rehearsal must compromise the volume of their voices so as not to disrupt another rehearsal or performance next door, while students using the lab studio must step into the rehearsal of another production taking place in an adjoining classroom in order to exit the lab from backstage.

“Sometimes when we’re trying to make crossovers and we’re in rehearsal, it ruins our process and the director can get side-tracked. It can be very distracting,” said ATP junior Andrew Abbott, who is currently dealing with this inconvenience on a nightly basis during technical rehearsals of this weekend’s “Accidental Death of an Anarchist.”

“It’s nothing new; I’ve been doing it for three years,” he said.

“Even during rehearsal processes when shows aren’t running, you’ve got people taking their breaks when another show’s rehearsing, and they let out and sometimes they’re noisy and the stage manager has to come in and shut us all up,” Buckner said.

The insufficient nature of the home to theater majors leaves many feeling their chosen field of study is regarded with less importance and care than others throughout the university.

“We know in our heads it isn’t, but in our hearts it can feel like a lack of respect on the university’s part,” Bayne said.

“Certainly the ATP is one of the finest acting programs in the country. To see the music department’s fantastic facilities and to see the dance program’s fantastic facilities — and both these programs are comparable in terms of their standing within the artistic world — it feels like the university is turning a cold shoulder to us,” he said.

“We don’t need a facility that’s completely modernized, with flat screen TVs and all that jazz going on, but I think that it would be good to have a cohesive building, with everything under one roof, with dance floor facilities for movement classes and different spaces for performance,” said senior transfer student Stephanie Stoker, who is a freshman in the ATP.

Pursuing his goal of securing a new building for the department, Nelson and colleagues toured the Utah Museum of Natural History last week as a potential new home for the theater department.

“A number of us at the department and college level are talking about that becoming the theater and perhaps film building,” Nelson said.

With Pioneer Memorial Theatre to the south and Kingsbury Hall and Gardner Hall to the north, the UMNH is situated in a wonderful location, Nelson said.

Funding is still being raised for the museum’s move into a new building, which will not happen for another few years, Nelson said.

“It would cost many millions to bring it up to code?but I hope the Legislature would feel good about contributing money,” he said.

“Art and art history have their building, ballet and modern dance have their building, the School of Music just got a wonderful renovation completed at Gardner Hall; I think it’s our turn. I think it’s beyond our turn,” Nelson said.

“It would certainly enhance morale (to get a new building),” he said. “It would help us all to feel that we’re not a marginalized stepchild, but that we’re really part of the university family.”

“This is an educational institution first and foremost, and so the facilities that the institution provides for student learning — whether it’s in a classroom or on stage, which is our students’ lab, or wherever — has an impact on student learning,” Nelson said.

Lennie Mahler

A portion of Room 110 in the Performing Arts Building has been barricaded with pianos and sofas. The hardwood floor is in need of repairs because of mold growth and splitting wood, which gave acting students splinters. The room is still used for acting classes in spite of the blockage.

Lennie Mahler

Spots from old vines mark the walls at the south entrance to the Performing Arts Building. The building was built in 1920 and became the Performing Arts Building in 1986.