UC Santa Cruz students, locals speak out on the closure of Shakespeare Santa Cruz
Giles Henderson, a UC Santa Cruz junior and intern with Shakespeare Santa Cruz (SSC), says that the campus' affiliation with the nationally renowned theatre company was the core reason he chose the university.
“Having Shakespeare Santa Cruz being a part of UCSC was a major draw for me as a theatre arts student. In fact,” he says, “it was the deciding factor.”
Despite its draw for arts students, the Santa Cruz community, and beyond, the UCSC Dean of the Arts David Yager announced via press release on Aug. 26 that the nationally acclaimed repertory theatre, currently in its 32nd year, will take its final bow following the annual holiday show this December.
Yager states that the program, which receives funding from UCSC for part of its production costs, has become too costly to maintain.
“The campus has provided Shakespeare Santa Cruz with a large amount of financial support in hopes that the company could become financially self-sustaining,” he says. “Unfortunately, with each passing season, it has become clearer that this goal is not attainable.”
In an Aug. 30 email correspondence with Conan McCarty, deputy for the production's Actors' Equity Association and actor for SSC, UCSC Vice Chancellor Alison Galloway wrote that due to ongoing reductions in state support, the university's budget challenges make it impossible to continue its support for SSC.
“We have seen a 20 percent drop in staff while enrollments have increased,” she writes. “Mandatory cost increases will require us to continue to trim costs [like those of SSC] for the coming years.”
In the same Aug. 26 UCSC press release, Galloway stated, “We care deeply about SSC and very much appreciate the program and its value. But we also have to be accountable to our students, who are paying more than ever and need courses to graduate on time."
Yager explained that he is looking into re-creating a campus-hosted theatre company model that is more “financially stable, academically relevant, and closely aligned with the activities of a major research university.”
Like Henderson, McCarty says that, in his experience, all of the students who come to UCSC for theatre arts do so for its ties with SSC, which he believes calls into question Yager's notion that SSC could be more academically relevant.
“Every student I've spoken to who has come to UCSC to study theatre comes because of Shakespeare Santa Cruz,” McCarty says.
He adds that students going for their masters in theatre arts require a professional internship, which SSC fulfilled. “They just took it away,” says McCarty.
This year, SSC has 10 acting interns. Of the total number of interns, UCSC mandates that one third come from the local campus, McCarty explains. Ninety-nine people are listed as contract employees on the staff list.
Many students say their work at SSC has not only helped to launch careers in theatre after college, but also helped to define their lives and shape the way they pursue other careers.
Alumnus Jake Pino says that his work while interning with SSC last year had a deep impact on his life in ways that surpass theatre arts.
A Santa Cruz local, Pino moved to Los Angeles after graduating and landed a job with a theatre company through the connections he made at SSC. Soon, he will move to New York with two friends who also interned with SSC, where he plans to pursue new theatre opportunities.
“Being a part of SSC helped to shape my understanding of what it takes to be successful—in this world and as a theatre actor,” Pino says, adding that one component of excellent theatre, which he feels SSC excelled in, was helping aspiring actors learn about human nature, understand how people and the world are, and reflect those qualities in their art.
“I am a better, more complete person for having studied theatre, and that has seeped its way into everything else I do,” he says.
Pino says that Yager's willingness to cut SSC shows a lack of understanding of how much SSC impacts the school’s arts department.
“It seems to me that Yager is looking at SSC and focusing more on what it brings in monetarily, as opposed to what it should be, which is a great resource for students and an opportunity to expose them to professional actors,” he says. “Shakespeare Santa Cruz should be treated like a lab.”
Henderson says that while he is relieved he was able to accomplish what he came to do in UCSC's arts department, it saddens him that future students won't have the same opportunities through SSC.
There is a contradiction in the university’s decision, according to Carey Perloff, Artistic Director of the American Conservatory Theater, which is based in San Francisco.
In an open letter to UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal, she wrote, “You yourself, Chancellor Blumenthal, have written eloquently of the need to protect funding for medical research in an era of financial cutbacks. Do you not see that professional theater is a critical component not only of humanistic research but of the maintenance of an ancient and crucially important tradition?... You are justly proud of your engineering and genetics departments, which engage in an active way with the latest developments in their respective fields. Yet you question the value of a paltry investment in superb classical theater that not only binds UCSC to its broader community but keeps a rich level of humanistic dialogue alive over generations.”
Mike Ryan, an SSC favorite who has starred in numerous productions, was the first from SSC and the community to write an open letter to the Chancellor's Office protesting the closure of SSC.
“The dean says that, in cutting SSC, he's not cutting an academic program,” Ryan tells GT. “That's not what I'm hearing from students. What I'm hearing is how SSC set the bar for them in their studies. Students work very hard to attain their goals there.”
In regard to Yager's hopes that SSC would become more financially self-sustaining, Ryan points out that the national average for theatre ticket sales that cover operating costs is about 42 percent, and SSC's ability to cover its own costs with ticket sales runs higher than average at closer to 50 percent in ticket sales covering operations.
SSC's 2012 operating budget was set at $1,731,000 but had a deficit of $204,000—or 12 percent. Forty-eight percent of the budget came from ticket sales, 10 percent from UCSC, and the rest from grants, other forms of earned income, and business contributions.
Over the past 10 years, campus contributions have totaled $2.13 million, Yager said in the press release. He went on to state that SSC revenues for 2012-13 fell short of planned expenditures by almost $500,000.
In the most recent fiscal year, Yager secured a contribution of $250,000 from the campus' central fund, of which he then directed $100,000 to debt reduction. That additional $250,000 contributed to SSC's appraised shortfall, making it a total of $750,000, which took SSC's cumulative debt “from $1.48 million to $1.98 million,” Yager stated.
Ryan says the gift of $250,000 has contributed to making this year's festival, which has done very well in sales, appear as if it's in its most disastrous year economically.
“So,” McCarty says heatedly, “not only does Yager add that onto the deficit, it should have [been] subtracted from the cumulative debt because that was its purpose.”
In Galloway’s Aug. 31 email correspondence with McCarty, she wrote that part of the $250,000 gift was partly for operational support and partly for debt retirement, the latter of which, Ryan points out, Yager denied knowing about in an Aug. 29 Santa Cruz Sentinel article.
Galloway wrote to McCarty, “... as the deficits accumulate each year and add onto the debt, the functional distinction between these [operations and deficit] becomes problematic.”
“Sadly,” Ryan says, “this is indicative of how the university has handled Shakespeare Santa Cruz: on the one hand they say, 'We're giving you a gift, here's $250,000.' But then they say, 'By the way, that $250,000 is going against your cumulative deficit.’ And that $100,000 is being spent on deficit reduction.”
Ryan says that the numbers—what he calls “one-sided accounting”—fail to take into account how much money SSC pays back into UCSC for the use of facilities and box office sales.
“There's this merry-go-round of money,” Ryan says. “And it's a real mess.”
Five years ago, SSC came close to being shut down. UCSC gave the company one week to raise $300,000 from the community, which they accomplished and surpassed by raising almost $420,000.
Henderson points out that the fundraising SSC accomplished in 2008 demonstrates the foundation and backing by the community for the company.
This year, Ryan says, SSC was not given any forewarning or the opportunity to raise the necessary funds. While McCarty expresses his frustration with UCSC, he says SSC would like to work out a way to continue operating on the campus.
The SSC Board of Directors released a press statement about their intention to create an independent, nonprofit organization that would continue SSC off campus—an idea that they said has full support from Chancellor Blumenthal.
McCarty says the dean's decision to cut SSC without getting community input or consulting SSC will be met with vocal opposition from the community and the theatre company.
He employs an interpretation of Shakespeare's “Julius Caesar.”
Following Caesar’s assassination, Brutas—UCSC, in his analogy—calms the masses, justifying the assassination. But then he allows Mark Antony—SSC—to speak on behalf of the late Caesar, who rallies the community back into action.
“If you're going to shut us down, wait until we're gone,” McCarty says, explaining the amount of community support SSC is leveraging. “Perhaps if the dean had seen our most recent production of 'Julius Caesar,' he could have learned from Brutas' mistake—never let anyone speak after you at the funeral.”
written by Sam J. Misner , September 11, 2013
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