When school begins in the fall of 2010, the UW School of Drama will not be welcoming new classes in its graduate acting and design programs. Instead, department faculty will be meeting to retool the three-year programs that lead to a Master of Fine Arts degree. They plan to recruit again in the fall of 2011.
“This is the only intelligent way to respond to a reduction in resources,” said Drama School Director Sarah Nash Gates. “Our programs were designed around one set of resources. Those have changed, so the programs have to change.”
She said the School of Drama has taken a 20 percent cut in TAs this year and has been told there will be another 10 percent cut next year, as has every department in the College of Arts and Sciences. It has also lost two faculty positions, which is difficult because it is a small department. The staff and operations budget was cut by 12 percent.
The faculty made the decision not to admit new acting and design graduate students next year after a series of meetings in the fall. The decision, Gates said, was by consensus.
“I knew it wouldn’t work unless everyone was on board,” she said.
The graduate program in directing, which only admits students every other year, will not be affected by the change. The undergraduate and doctoral programs will also be unchanged.
Cuts in the production budget have already resulted in the loss of one full production this season. Instead, the school will be doing two sets of play readings — one in partnership with the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies that is part of the Great Depression in Washington State Project and the other with Seattle Repertory Theatre. The former is supported by a grant from the Simpson Center for the Humanities.
“Professional actors do readings all the time, so it’s good for our students to learn how to do this, and they will work directly with professional actors and directors,” Gates said. “This is a good example of doing something new that is positive.”
At the same time, she said, the faculty realizes that continuing to cut productions is not an option, because theater artists make productions “That is what we do.”
“As always, our students are our highest priority,” Gates said. “Current graduate students will continue to receive top quality experiences and the levels of support promised when they were admitted.”
Gates said the Drama School faculty will be having ongoing meetings to determine the best plan of action. She said that she had visited other schools as an external reviewer and had seen other models in action, and that these would be considered. Some schools, for example, routinely admit students every other year; some every three years. Under these models, the school doesn’t have to have three different acting classes under way each quarter, as the UW does under its present system. Admitting one class and seeing it through three years before taking another would free up faculty time. But Gates emphasized that she was going into the process with an open mind and did not know what the best answer for the UW would be.
“We are committed to the legacy of excellence that is the hallmark of the UW’s School of Drama and are determined to be proactive as we face our new economic realities,” she said.