Admit it. In high school, you were probably involved in marching band, dance, choir or a theater group - and if you were just one chair higher in the all-state symphony orchestra, you would have certainly gotten into Princeton.
Whether or not you're still involved in any of these activities, I'm sure you've been to at least one performing-arts event at Penn. The sheer number and diversity of theater, music and dance groups on our campus make attendance essentially unavoidable - and anyone would be foolish to disregard such high-quality performances.
Luckily, Penn students are not stupid.
"Over 30,000 tickets were sold last year," Student Performing Arts Director Ty Furman said. "We're a huge part of the Penn culture - the second-largest umbrella group, second only to the Greek system." In fact, performers make up about 12 percent of Penn undergraduates.
However, while so many of the events do attract popular interest, several of the groups vie for attention outside of the performing-arts community.
"The biggest challenge is getting non-theater people to attend our productions," College sophomore and Penn Players publicity director Jason Butler said. Yet Butler's groups continue to draw crowds, and "the productions are very well done for a school that isn't known for its theater."
And herein lies a crucial problem - Penn should be helping its performing-arts scene grow, instead of failing to give it the critical support it needs. Our performers serve vital roles in the Penn community as both entertainers and educators.
Under an umbrella organization called the Performing Arts Council, more than 40 different groups operate through grants from the Student Activities Council and alumni donations. Even if they achieve a profit, the members must submit all money to SAC.
"We're generally well-funded," Butler said. "But it would be nice to have a bigger budget to increase production values."
More critical than a lack of funding, however, is the inadequate space for both rehearsals and performances. Furman and his PAC executive board instituted a moratorium on new groups in order to focus on fixing "internal problems." According to Furman, one problem is "space-sharing," and the PAC is currently strategizing about "how to get more efficient use out of the performance venues."
The need for this moratorium is appalling - PAC auditions are highly selective, and if groups are qualified enough to become members, the PAC should be have the resources to accept them.
Furman is able to overcome "weak institutional support through perseverance and resourcefulness," College senior and PAC executive board member David Fraga said.
And Furman has made major progress, with the newly opened Platt Student Performing Arts House. However, while the donated basement is certainly a welcome addition to Penn, it far from satisfies the student performers' needs because it houses only a small stage and rehearsal rooms.
"There's such a need for that kind of space that it certainly would not go wasted if there was another performance venue on campus," Furman said.
Through long-term strategizing, Penn might be able to furnish the needed space without dispensing our tuition - by pleasing students while they are here. However, Penn remains drastically behind other Ivy League universities in its academic-arts programs. Currently, theater arts is but a major in the English department, and Larry Robbins teaches the only arts-management course, a remnant of a 1970s MBA concentration.
"Especially given the name and size of Wharton, it's astonishing that there's no arts-management program," College senior and Penn Players chairwoman Julia Baldwin said. "Because Penn hasn't made arts a priority, it seems that people who would be potential donors to arts programs would not donate to Penn."
If Penn administrators reinstated such a program, they would create a whole new generation of possible philanthropists. An increase in donors would bring resources to deserving students without monopolizing University finances.
According to Fraga, the University needs "to support the proliferation and the dedication of these affinity groups," who remain "the No. 1 driver of alumni return and contributions."
For now, however, performers must make do with limited resources and disregard the space crunch that hinders their productivity.
So this weekend, stash that can of beer and go see West Side Story, Bloomers or Quaker Notes - trust me, it will be worth it. Your peers will amaze you, and, thanks to the University, the show will be gone before you know it.
Sharon Udasin is a College senior from East Brunswick, N.J. Her e-mail address is email@example.com. Shed a Little Light appears on Mondays.Comments powered by Disqus
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