Theater groups fight for space

Student theater groups on campus are waiting for a decision from administrators concerning their proposal to convert a studio in Building XX into performance and rehearsal space.

There are currently no venues on campus dedicated solely to student theater. Groups can use space in Lisner Downstage and the Mitchell Hall Theater, among other locations, but space is subject to scheduling availability.

The University’s Department of Theatre and Dance, which schedules for the Downstage, allocated student theater groups one weekend in the space this semester. With five theater groups on campus producing one to four shows per semester, it has been tough to find adequate space on campus for all performances, student theater group leaders said.

“We have made (the space) available to the students as often as possible,” said Leslie Jacobson, chair of the Department. “The department of Theatre and Dance and the Department of Music would like to find dedicated space on this campus for the performing arts.”

The department currently blocks off space in the Downstage for weekends of performances and the weekends surrounding performances to provide them with adequate rehearsal time and space.

The groups on campus – Absolute Pleasure Productions, 14th Grade Players, Forbidden Planet Productions, Generic Theatre Company and Majority Theatre – have all struggled with space requests.

Last semester one group was forced to cancel a production, while others have had to put up shows in spaces not traditionally used for productions.

Executive Producer of Generic Theatre Company Caroline Nisbet and Generic’s Technical Director John Kearns submitted their proposal this summer requesting the conversion of the Building XX space.

Formerly a church, the building, located at 814 20th St., is used for classroom space during the day but goes unused at night.

The proposal outlines a description of space problems, difficulties with spaces currently available for use and a detailed plan for the outfitting and management of Building XX’s second-floor studio.

“We asked for the Building XX space simply because it seemed to us to be the easiest, most reasonable solution for the University,” Nisbet said. “As of now, the room sits empty for most evenings, and it would be a simple and practical solution to give us permission to make it our home.”

The groups estimate they will need about $15,000 to convert the studio into a suitable theater space, adding details such as chairs, risers, lights, a light board, floor paint and acting blocks.

Fundraising is “still in the works,” Nisbet said.

Administrators said they are looking over the proposal closely; their response has been mostly positive.

It is “highly likely” the building will be used as a theater space, at least in the short term, said Craig Linebaugh, associate vice president for Academic Planning and Development.

Officials said there is no time frame for a possible conversion.

The allocation of funding from the University will play a large role in the decision. Linebaugh said programs are funded “relative to educational value,” and there are a variety of other endeavors the University wants to support. The administration has asked the students to come up with most of the funding needed to convert the building.

Gerald Kauver, special assistant to the University President, said administrators are “looking at whether (the groups’) estimate is correct.” He said the estimate does not include maintenance and utility costs, such as setting up a GWorld card system to enter the building.

Linebaugh also said there are performance venues at GW that are not being used, such as the Hand Chapel at the Mount Vernon Campus.

But students said these spaces do not suit the needs of their groups. Hand Chapel does not have its own lighting system, so groups using the space need to provide their own equipment.

Some organizations have been forced to put up shows in non-traditional spaces or poorly equipped spaces. 14th Grade Productions used the Marvin Center Amphitheater for a show in April 2002. Forbidden Planet Productions put up both of its shows last year in Mitchell Hall, “which is very small and poorly equipped,” Nisbet said.

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