Expecting Profits from College Theatre

Chris Peterson 

Many Broadway shows close as quickly as they open. With millions of dollars involved, if the financial forecast isn't looking pretty, don't expect to see the show running for very long. Broadway producers can do this with little uproar from the public, because most theatre folk know that, at the end of the day, this is a business and profits must be made. But when news hits that colleges are shutting down their theatre programs because they're not making money, something seems very wrong with that picture. 

This is the issue that is facing students at Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell, who have been told that their production of The Little Mermaid, will be the last they get to perform in their own theatre. 

According to a statement given to the Daily Journal, ENMU-R stated: 

"Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell has been fortunate to have a theater as a non-instructional auxiliary. The economic position of the school and the state requires us to make difficult business decisions and, unfortunately, we can no longer subsidize programs that continue to operate at a financial loss. ENMU-Roswell will no longer subsidize campus theater productions after the current production of 'The Little Mermaid.'"

What this is basically telling you, is that because the theatre program isn't making profits, we're shutting it down. I am also further confused on why they're calling their theater a " non-instructional auxiliary". If they theatre classes, wouldn't the theater itself be an instructional facility? If you offer chemistry classes, don't you need a proper laboratory? 

I would understand ENMU-R's position, if they were losing thousands upon thousands of dollars into these productions which would put a strain on their ability to fund other programs. But that doesn't seem to be the case here. 

Given the financial history at ENMU-R, Dallas Pollei, an instructor of theatre at the school, also questions the decision. According to the Daily Journal, Pollei said, 

"Dr. (John) Madden (president of ENMU-R) told me that ENMU-R is no longer supporting in-house plays because they didn't have the money to continue," Pollei said. "He did not have spreadsheets or numbers to illustrate his point.
"In the 10 years that I've been there, all plays have been funded by ticket sales. I had a special code to deposit ticket money into, and it paid for the next plays. I have never gone into the negative and have never had to ask the college for any money. Based on reports from the budget office and ticket deposits, I don't understand why the college can't afford this."

Only rubbing salt into the wound, ENMU-R administrators have told Pollei that he can certainly still perform shows in the theater, as long as he starts a theatre company of his own and pays to rent the space. Let me repeat that, a theatre teacher, employed by ENMU-R, would have to pay ENMU-R to perform shows there. Roswell, NM is known for keeping things hidden but I didn't think logic was one of them. 

ENMU-R's production of "Godspell"

ENMU-R's production of "Godspell"

ENMU-R isn't the first college to put their theater on the chopping block though. Colleges from the University of Akron to SUNY Albany have all made drastic cuts into their theatre education. 

I find it unfortunate and counter-productive to put the pressure of making profit on college theatre productions. It forces educators and directors to re-think giving their students opportunities to perform different types of material and simply choose popular "chestnut" plays and musicals to make money for the college. This would restrict the educational ability for students to become more versatile. 

Furthermore, making decisions like these only serve as clear cut messages that performing arts aren't welcomed or embraced by these colleges. For ENMU-R, this is especially sad considering their performing arts center is only 20 years old. 

I do hope the administrators at ENMU-R take a second look at the financial statements and reconsider this decision. It would be a shame for the students to have to perform RENT next year in a classroom with a empty, fully equipped theater right next door.