The long-awaited opening of the Davis Performing Arts Center at the beginning of this academic year brought state-of-the-art facilities, a growing performing arts faculty and a new minor to Georgetown. But as the Program in Performing Arts expands, its faculty must take care not to smother the student theater that has been a hallmark of University culture for more than 150 years.
Mask & Bauble Dramatic Society, Nomadic Theater, the Black Theater Ensemble and the Georgetown Players together create a diverse—and well-established—club theater culture at Georgetown. Mask & Bauble is the oldest student dramatic society in the nation, according to its members, while Nomadic and the Black Theater Ensemble each boast more than 20 years of existence. Their productions frequently sell out.
However, since the creation of the PPA, which oversees academic theater at Georgetown, in 2003, students involved in club theater have worried about its future. “No one is against the creation of the PPA,” Sally Richardson (COL ‘04), then an associate producer for Mask & Bauble, told The Voice in 2004. “What people are against is the PPA being created at the expense of other theater groups on campus.”
Two years later, Richardson’s fears are beginning to come true. Kate Noland, (COL ‘06) associate producer of Nomadic, confirmed that the number of student productions has gone down since the opening of the Performing Arts Center. The reason is understandable: last year, she said, those once involved in club theater tried to add PPA shows to their schedules, but were “burnt out” from participating in so many performances.
The fact remains that club theater is losing actors to its academic counterpart. If this trend continues, club theater may eventually die out, as students opt for the facilities in the Davis center over the tradition of student-run groups.
If student theater does die, it will have a replacement: faculty-led productions in which student actors work with professionals. This structure, however, deprives students of an integral part of college theater work. Students working closely with professors may construct a fancy product, but there is value in watching an idea develop and in making it come to life; there is value in learning acting and production the hard way.
The creation of a large, well-funded theater program helps Georgetown broaden its understanding of liberal arts, and the theater major, which will be launched next year, will surely attract diverse and exciting new talent. But in these leaps forward, those student clubs who took the first step must not be forgotten. The Program in Performing Arts must continue to give student clubs independent access to the Davis Performing Arts Center, and all its resources, to ensure that this vital aspect of Georgetown theater does not fall by the wayside.