Theatre program’s numbered days produce hardships

Alayna Ross

In July of 2020, the Ashland University Board of Trustees voted for the continuation and enhancement of 31 programs, the realignment of two programs, and the sunsetting of another 20 programs, including the theatre program.

The board’s vote comes after meeting with the 16-member task force, and reviews of the recommendations by the board’s Academic Affairs, Finance and Facilities Joint Committee and later by its Executive Committee.

According to the Ashland University News Center, the task force began its discussion on April 9, 2020, to review data on all undergraduate academic programs. The data included consideration of market attractiveness, fit with the University’s mission and revenue margins, the number of new student deposits for programs, five-year history of majors and degrees awarded, revenue generated and the costs to deliver those credit hours.

The sunsetting process involves the elimination of various faculty and staff positions, limited resources for already enrolled students, and closed enrollment for new students entering the program.

The positions that were cut within the theatre department included, Sean Parker, Assistant Professor, who did not have his contract renewed for 2020-2021. While Justin Bilewicz, Costume Manager, David Steinmetz, Technical Director of the Hugo Young Theatre, and Tricia Applegate, Coordinator of the Performing Arts, Events, and Publicity were all laid off permanently.

The news of the demise of the theatre department took many by surprise, despite the ruling coming from the Board of Trustees, AU Task Force, and AU President Campo; who received his Ph.D. in English with an emphasis in Drama and his Bachelor of Arts Degree in Theater from the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Dr. Thomas Reed, chair of the theatre and music departments, is happy that the theatre department has been able to continue to educate and produce productions amidst the sunsetting process. 

“We are proud that despite the loss of one faculty position and three staff positions, and despite pandemic restrictions, we successfully and safely produced two live theatre productions in fall 2020 and are producing one virtual production in spring 2021,” Reed said. “We hope to receive sufficient resources to continue theatre productions and the theatre minor after sunsetting.”

The theatre department at AU was able to produce “The Odd Couple,” a production that was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and “Twelfth Night” in the fall of 2020. Most recently, “The Theory of Relativity,” which was live-streamed as a virtual performance, finished off the 2021 season. 

Although the department has still been able to produce theatre productions throughout the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 semesters, there has been a strain on the students that will be some of the last theatre graduates from AU.

Katie Snell, a sophomore musical theatre major, explains that the theatre department at AU is surviving, but only just and is leaving theatre students feeling as though they cannot receive a proper education.

“As a theatre major, the sunsetting of the major and the extensive budget cuts have left us feeling completely unsupported by the university,” Snell said. “With several staff positions being completely eradicated it actually makes it much harder on the students and the remaining faculty.”

With fewer staff members in the theatre program, the shows are still being produced and the students are still engaging with each new performance.