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The Student News Site of Ashland University

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Ashland University

The Collegian

The Final Bow: Ashland University closes the curtains on its theatre major 

What will happen to the arts at Ashland?
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The Collegian

In July of 2020, Ashland University announced it would be sunsetting the theatre major along with 20 others in 2021.  

Dr. Carlos Campo, president of AU, was quoted in an article from the Ashland Times-Gazette on July 27, 2020, about the sunsetting of this major. 

 “The students made this decision more than we did. If students were coming to Ashland in droves for the theatre program, it never would have been sunset … So, while the board started this action, it was really students who decided by their registrations where they really want to focus and want to study. And that’s what we’re going to stay focused on,” Campo said. Alumni disagreed. 

In a Letter to the Editor from alumni in 2020, the alumni blamed the outdated facility for not joining the program.  The Center for the Arts building is the second oldest building on campus, Founders being the first, and hasn’t been renovated to help attract prospective students. 

“It seems irresponsible, however, that the University fails to recognize the part they played in maintaining the quality and appeal of the program,” the Letter to the Editor said. 

In the letter, 102 AU theatre alumni signed the document to bring awareness to the fact that the university was not putting its efforts into showing students the success alumni have in the professional world.  

We, the alumni, feel that the theatre major is being phased out not because of the students, but because the University has missed a plethora of opportunities to leverage the success of its graduates to increase enrollment. Alumni success stories are a critical and key strategy for recruiting prospective students,” stated in the Letter to the Editor. 

With the final group of theatre majors graduating, the question on the forefront of everyone’s minds is: ‘What will happen to the arts at Ashland?’ 

According to Dr. Teresa Durbin-Ames, an associate professor of theatre, there will still be productions happening and a minor will still be offered. 

“I am going to teach classes, still have auditions, select plays, see if people come and still want to be involved. In my 20 years here, we have had non-majors involved in productions the entire time. We have never relied solely on majors to do the theatre that has been done here by the theater department for 50 years. It has been done by people who just had a passion for it,” Durbin-Ames explained. “That’s what we need to find, students who still want to participate.” 

Earlier this year, Durbin-Ames met with Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Katherine Brown, to discuss the future of the program. 

“In terms of teaching the classes that are required for [the minor], we met with the Dean earlier this year and she said yes there is still a desire for there to be productions. Depending on the students’ interest there will be a fall play and a spring musical,” Durbin-Ames said. 

There are still high hopes for the future of the program, according to Durbin-Ames, but the program has been severely affected by the announcement of sunsetting.  

How Sunsetting Affected Theatre 

With the sunsetting of this major, mandatory classes that help prepare students for the professional world have been cut. One of the classes cut was Introduction to Technical Theater taught by several professors, most of which were cut. 

Throughout this course, students would be taught how to safely use power tools, construct platforms that can hold the correct weight, program lighting, recircuit an outlet, and several other skills. 

“A major side effect of losing the major is that we lost a required course. It’s a major detriment because we do not have someone full time running the shop during the day when students could complete work-study hours or volunteer between classes. Now everything is condensed to weekends and an afternoon schedule. On top of that, nobody has taken [the course],” Seth Morrison, the technical director of AU Theatre, said.

Without this course, students must rely on the limited hours and Morrison to teach them everything they need to know in a short span of time.  

“They come in get explained a whole project and then I must show them how to use a drill, how to safely set up a ladder, how to manage safety gear, and the entire thing is basically as much information that I can teach them on the job while trying to get things done,” he said. 

Classes weren’t the only thing that suffered from the sunsetting. Several professors and faculty were laid off in 2020 as well.  

“We used to have a performing arts publicity coordinator who handled scheduling events, publicity, and various other duties for the box office,” Morrison said. “What used to be one position that headed all that up coordinating with the Marketing [department and businesses], has all fallen to Teresa, who is already directing, teaching, and managing the whole program.” 

While the program was going through cuts, professors still continued recruiting students that would be the last ones to major in theater.  

One of the last majors of this program is Tobin Grendzynski. He made the choice to stay at Ashland even though he knew his major was being sunsetted.  

“I remember how the teachers treated me during my audition. I remember how they were very considerate, and they saw a lot of potential in me. I didn’t really feel like I got that anywhere else. Even though [the professors] knew that the program was sunsetted and that some of them were going to be laid off, they still wanted the best for me,” Grendzynski recalled. “I still felt like Ashland was the right choice for my education.” 

During his time here at AU, Grendzynski was a part of about nine productions AU Theatre presented. He also helped the new theatre company with its production, Macbeth. 

A New Theatre Company on Campus 

In 2021, the idea of the Ashbrook Theatre Company came about after news of AU Theater being sunsetted. 

Sabrina Maristela, student programs coordinator of The Ashbrook Center, created the Ashbrook Theatre Company in hopes of keeping theater alive at AU. 

“We had a lot of Ashbrook students in the theatre program, and they really liked it. We were brainstorming because the Bob Archer Effect meant everyone was recruiting more. He wanted us to get more students too. We always believe that if we want to get more students, what we offer needs to be the best,” Maristela explained. “Theatre came up because we know that it’s something our students are interested in and that we know serves the goal of a liberal education. We are aware that isn’t necessarily the university’s priority right now.”  

The theatre company focuses on performing classical historic pieces. 

“The reason it’s a classical theatre company is because we didn’t want to establish another theatre company. We wanted to do something that wouldn’t be infringing [on AU Theater],” Maristela said.  

The company held its first show in spring of 2022, The Tempest, in the Jack and Deb Miller Chapel. 

According to Maristela, the main goal of this theatre company is to “make sure theater doesn’t go away on Ashland’s campus but also filling a gap for the more casual thespian among our students.” 

Having two theater programs at AU is intended to help keep the arts alive on campus. 

“I just hope the members of Alpha Psi Omega (APO) and the Ashbrook Theatre Company continue pushing for theatre at Ashland. It’s more than just seeing people act on a stage. You get connected with these characters and with the stories. Something resonates with the audience. We have the chance to impact people’s lives with the stories we tell,” Grendzynski concluded. 

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  • S

    SeanDec 7, 2023 at 10:00 am

    “The students made this decision.” Dr. Campo, you starve the department of funds and resources, neglect the Arts building while continuing to funnel money to sports and other majors, and refuse to allow for organic growth within the department. Yes, the students made the decision to not invest their time and money in a University that isn’t willing to invest in them and their artistic future. Ashland produced many successful professionals in the Arts community. But now without the burden of having to allocate .5% of the yearly budget to the Arts, the school can continue to be the Ashland University Center for Football

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  • M

    MeghanDec 7, 2023 at 8:36 am

    I was a Theatre minor at Ashland. I literally use the invaluable skills that I learnt in the department… coping skills, the ability to adapt, organize. Last month I planned and ran a live centennial program for the organization I work for. Theatre and other arts teach these skills- I feel so bad for the AU students that have been deprived this opportunity.

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  • M

    Mike MarchinukeDec 6, 2023 at 7:49 pm

    Bullshit. That is all

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