Tracker Pixel for Entry

​VCSU goes without theatre

by Dima Vitanova | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | News | June 21st, 2017

What Monika Browne calls a bubble of magic floated to a burst at Valley City State University.

Readying for a dent in state funds, whacked by diminished oil revenues and commodity prices last summer, the university resolved to gradually shed its theater minor as part of a budget reduction of 10 percent.

For Browne, who, for years, juggled her theater studies with her duties as a mother of two and office manager at a law firm, the news came crashing.

“I was heartbroken,” said Browne, whose hanker for theater sprouted at an early age, in her native Poland. “I think it is a great loss for the students in the area. It takes away an opportunity to experience art.”

Over a 100 students have drifted toward theatre since 2006, when the minor commenced at the 127-year old VCSU, where performances have occurred for a century. The tally might represent a morsel of the university’s general enrollment for the past decade, but it seems to carry sizable relevance.

With balanced rates of registration and graduation, the minor averaged eight students per academic year, said Jenni Lou Rossi, who headed theatre within the Communication Arts department. “The average over the last ten years was the second highest of minor programs,” she said.

The introductory course to theatre served as an additional gauge of the program’s popularity. The class was regularly packed. An online section needed to open to accommodate the interest, Rossi said.

From Rossi’s depiction, a healthy program emerged. Yet the decision to shutter theatre was “the most strategic move,” said Greg Vanney, director of marketing and communications at VCSU. “We spent considerable time trying to figure out where we could find some savings, while impacting the fewest number of students possible,” he said. “It was not like we wanted to cut theatre.”

The university accommodated students like Browne whose theatre studies hung unfinished when the cut came. They would be able to complete their minors on campus, said Vanney.

The past academic year saw Russi teach the last theatre classes and head the final faculty-led productions. In September she is to renounce her role of theatre director and the sole theatre professor at VCSU and assume a vacant position in communications. This will save $147,000, Vanney said, in Russi’s salary and benefits and theatre operating costs over the next biennium, when VCSU is to run on a slimmed-down budget with a total of nearly $5 million.

“I was devastated because it changed my work,” said Russi, a stand-up comedian who moved to VCSU in the mid-aughts. “More importantly, it changed the entire reason I was here.”

Three hours away from the nearest comedy club, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Russi centered her artistic pursuits in the classroom and on the stage of VCSU’s historic Theatre 320.

Russi watched students come to theatre and discover their forte, making friends, brushing off insecurities and rising to speak for themselves. “The personal transformation of students is what is so exciting for me,” she said.

In the 1970s, long before the theatre minor morphed into its latest form, VCSU alum Brad Stephenson realized the potency of theatre in molding character. It nudged Stephenson, who today owns a cluttered bookstore in Fargo, North Dakota, to overcome what he believes to be a primary fear for many – addressing an audience, of any size and kind.

But there is more to theatre than breaking through one’s shell, he said. Equally significant are the technical and artistic skills, like set and costume design, marketing, makeup and hairdressing, carpentry, light and sound control that theatre hones.

“I feel it is unfortunate,” Stephenson said of cutting the theatre minor. He penned a letter to VCSU administration, urging it to reconsider. “I understand when money is tight things have to go. Unfortunately, all the arts are often seen as extra, something I do not believe. People do not always see the influence of arts if they are not directly involved. They do not see that it goes beyond entertainment.”

While VCSU’s catalog of classes dropped theatre, students can still pick up the craft on their own. Funds for independent performances remain available through Student Senate, whose coffers attract no state money but rather fill up with a portion of student fees.

“The hope is that students will continue to do productions,” even if they lack formal education in the field, Rossi said. But now that her professorial duties in theatre have been shelved, she is hesitant about partaking on her own discretion. “If I volunteer as a director in an academic setting, what am I teaching my students about the value of their education in theatre?”

Even if discontinued, the theatre minor at VCSU has an uncertain future. The university has committed to weigh the reinstitution of the program in three years – by that time, the next legislative session will have assembled and, according to projections, the state’s revenue streams would have revived.

Until then, Stephenson hopes theatre at VCSU does not slip to the backstage of community support.  

Recently in:

Sophia Wilansky says she’s lucky she’s right handed. Since nearly losing her left arm from an exploding projectile on Backwater Bridge one year ago, cooking has become a tedious art. She can no longer be involved in circus…

Thanksgiving is around the corner and we give thanks for the blessing of the harvest. Everyone is getting ready for the Thanksgiving feast.After Thanksgiving, we can easily imagine the endless long lines in early morning for the…

Thursday, November 16, 7-9pmUnglued, 408 Broadway N, FargoProof Artisan Distillers and Unglued present a craft party with four distinct projects and help from artists Ashley from AENDEE and Nicole Rae, not to mention a special…

“The experience of all ages has proved that the people constantly give away their liberties.” - John Adams“Man’s dishonesty with himself is his greatest enemy. When he makes a mistake, his memory admits, ‘I have done…

The thoughts and prayers of politicians will finally be answeredWe have had 307 mass shootings (four kills or more) so far in 2017, including the last one in Sutherland Springs, Texas, where 26 mortals attending church, aged 18…

For the third week in a row, our panel of judges were out on the town with a thirst for cocktails and a focus on presentation, flavor, and creativity. This week’s adventures took us to a couple of hotspots in south Fargo, as the…

Colder weather, changing leaves, pumpkin spice and more are some of the few things that come to mind when many think of fall. But fall is about much more than sugary lattes and scarves, and you can fully indulge in fall flavors at…

I’m told that there is nothing quite like a live Green Jelly show, where anarchy and foam puppets reign. So perhaps it’s in the spirit of the upcoming show that my intended interview with the mastermind and vocalist behind the…

Putting to good use his affinity for period detail, filmmaker Todd Haynes tackles Brian Selznick’s 639-page “Wonderstruck,” with a screenplay adapted by the author. Weaving together a pair of New York stories that take place…

Would you like to escape your stressful daily life with a relaxing arts event? Do you like to meet with old friends and make new ones? Or maybe you would like to start your Christmas and Holiday shopping early. FMVA has the event…

Ted Larson introduced me to Chris Jacobs one evening at Weld Hall in the late 1980s. I was in high school then, but Chris recognized fellow film fanatics, and we would chat a little bit each week. I learned quickly that he loved…

Humor

​Talking to strangers

by Sabrina Hornung

“I don’t have a tour, like, on the back of a sweatshirt,” comedian Paula Poundstone says. “I go out every weekend. This weekend I went out Friday, Saturday and Monday. Mostly it’s Friday/Saturday or Thursday through…

Believe it or not, “The Holidays” are upon us. If you’ve been to Target lately, and I know you have, you may have noticed that the Christmahanakwanzika stuff is already up (if you’re unsure of that term, Google it).In fact,…

Essential oils. They are all the buzz lately. It seems everyone has heard of them or is purchasing them. Some people know how to use them; others are just interested in the wonder of their complex scents.Essential oils are as…

Live and Learn

​The other shoe

by HPR Contributor

By Elizabeth Nawrotnawrot@mnstate.eduI look up from my hotel lobby breakfast astonished to see a framed print of Wassily Kandinsky's "Mit und Gegen,” a masterpiece of color and composition that just happens to be my favorite…

By Anthony Paul [Editor’s note: This piece contains language that some readers may find offensive]It has been all over social media and the news lately, how our president and commander-in-chief called and spoke with one of these…