Performers seek more practice venues

Dozens of student performers are pressing GW for more low-cost, late-night practice areas, saying they are sometimes forced to rehearse outside or in parking garages and common rooms.

The groups say they should be allowed to practice after business hours in areas like the Marvin Center ballrooms, suited for dance, and that space in Old Main and townhouses such as Building XX and Building J should open up.

GW Ballroom is leading the lobbying effort, trying to link up the campus’ 80 performance groups, after the organization nearly lost its practice spot this year. Nicole Martin, logistics coordinator for the group, said the University asked for $6,000 a semester for GW Ballroom’s usual room in Lerner Health and Wellness Center, which it previously used for free. GW Ballroom received $8,000 in funding from the Student Association’s Finance Committee this year and also uses the funds to travel to other states for performances.

“We just don’t have that in our budget, maybe if we had been told earlier in the year, we could have tried to work something out, but by now it’s too late,” Martin said.

The group ultimately bargained out of paying for this semester, but Martin said she is concerned about future reservations.

Christopher Kim, president of Capital Funk, said finding space has always been hard, and this year he has resorted to taking his group to locations like parking garages and Kogan Plaza when other locations are not available. He said his group has to schedule audition space in the Marvin Center’s Grand Ballroom 11 months in advance.

To avoid scheduling issues, Kim has also moved his group to the Mount Vernon Campus, where he said they have an easier time reserving the Lloyd Gym or Hand Chapel.

While GW’s more than 400 groups across campus face a space crunch when trying to book rooms, performing groups are more limited in their options. Hard wood floor ballrooms are often booked a year in advance.

About 7,000 student group events have taken place in GW’s non-academic spaces, mainly in the Marvin Center, since school started in August, Assistant Vice President for Events and Venues Michael Peller said. Last year, the Marvin Center hosted 6,600 student events.

Peller said the problem stems from a cramped urban campus and the competing uses of Marvin Center ballrooms as both dance space and space for other events.

“There is no dedicated dance space. It’s competing with all the other needs,” Peller said. “We certainly would love to have more space, but that’s something we have to deal with and try to balance. We can’t give space to everyone all the time. That’s the challenge.”

Eishita Nariani, president of GW Bhangra, once booked space in the Marvin Center for the weekend only to later get a call asking to give it up so the school could prep an event for Monday.

“It’s always something where we need to work with them and not where they really reciprocate or try to negotiate with us,” Nariani said.

Peller said the University has a hard time planning to invest in developing spaces with one sole use because space is limited and interest in niche groups like dance organizations can vary from year to year. He said constructing meeting and conference space in the Marvin Center’s third floor terrace would be a safer bet because of its multipurpose use.

University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard said she could not say which spaces are already reserved for the next year because the booking system only shows spots by day.

“Our system does not allow us to provide an overall snapshot of our future availability and only allows us to see the availability on a daily basis,” Sherrard said.

Martin, the GW Ballroom coordinator, enlisted SA President Ashwin Narla to tack on performing practice space to the SA’s campaign for student space. The SA held a rally in Kogan Plaza last week, which drew more than a thousand students. Narla said the SA collected 4,000 signatures as of 8 p.m. Tuesday when the petition closed, falling short of its goal of 5,000 signatures.

Narla will meet with Provost Steven Lerman this week to talk about opening up the performing spaces that close after business hours, which is when student groups typically practice.

In the past, administrators said it is hard to keep academic halls open past business hours because the University Police Department would need extra staffing. Narla pushed for the University to keep academic spaces like Duques and Funger halls open for 24 hours, and administrators agreed to 2 a.m.

“We continually evaluate the use of student space across campus and are monitoring closely the use of Duques and Funger halls,” Sherrard said. “We encourage students to use spaces in the Marvin Center, Gelman Library, Duques Hall and Funger Hall, among other spaces.”

Narla said opening up the academic space that can be used by dance and theater students, as well as other spaces with hardwood floors, past business hours is the best solution because it has dance studios that go unused past 5 p.m.

“We’re going to do our best. That’s the type of stuff we can look into,” Narla said. “If that’s not an option, we’ll explore other options, one of which would be the ‘superdorm.’ ”

Narla added that the “superdorm” basement would be better served as meeting and study room because performing space is “not in exactly high volume use throughout the day.”

But the SA has lobbied for nearly two years to increase student space while making few gains, and Martin said she is worried performance groups might be tossed aside.

“We’re not really sure what’s going to happen. We just hope to get included in the initiative,” Martin said.

Saumita Rajeevan, president of GW Raas, said her team practices Mondays through Fridays but has limited practice venues because the Marvin Center only allows groups to book large spaces three times in a month. When they can’t get the space in the Continental or Grand ballrooms, Rajeevan said they usually resort to an Ivory Tower common room.

“It’s really hard because at the end of January to March we have competitions every two weeks, and it’s really competitive and the other schools aren’t having these problems,” Rajeevan said.

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