Whatever glories Sanders Theatre may have sported in the past, it is now dragging with feeble steps towards what may well be the end of its career. The chorus of condemnation, spurred by the recent agitation for a modern Student Activities Center has grown to the proportions of a filibuster. And hardly a voice is raised in Sanders' defense. Mixed in with the Bronx cheers are overtones of resentment about the University's attitude towards student theater groups. And as a final blow, Sanders' crealy physical condition evoked a stern warning from a state fire inspection official, who was reported to have called it "the worst fire hazard in the state of Massachusetts."
For a long time the Dramatic Club, and more recently the Theater Workshop, have been struggling with Sanders' physical layout. The stage itself meets the requirements of Elizabethan drama, and impressionist plays like "Our Town," where any hare platform will do. The choice of plays has often revolved on the problem of what can be done with poor old 16th century Sanders. In some cases, a whack at a play that is neither impressionist nor Elizabethan has produced ingenious efforts at staging the near impossible, but for the most part, the Sanders stage lias severely limited the selection of material.
Expenses for the use of Sanders have figured prominently in the activities of theater groups. The charges are certainly legitimate; they could well he expected to be the same in any commercial theater. But the University seems only too determined to exact its pound of flesh. The bills are presented in a business-like fashion, and are expected to be paid promptly. If a play flops, the bills are still there, clamoring for payment just as loudly as bills of outside establishments.
On "Henry IV, Part One," for instance, HTW barely broke even, and yet the play drew large crowds for each performance. For services connected with the use of Sanders, the Workshop had to pay the University about $560. If the play had been a failure financially, HTW couldn't have paid its bills. And apparently, University aid in such a dilemma would not leap forth.
Consequently, both drama groups must constantly aim for popular theater, because they simply cannot afford a flop. Experimental plays--in the now time-honored tradition of college theater in this country--are had risks here, and it is virtually impossible to build up financial reserves to absorb any loss sustained for the sake of experiments, or even bad plays.
But Sanders has evidently seen its last days as anything except a proving ground for experimental drama. The current fire regulations state firmly that no scenery can be used. For a while, ordinary flats took the place of scenery. But just before the opening of "Henry IV" last December, the state building inspector decided that flats came under the category of scenery. He also threatened to close down the play, but later withdrew his objections--for the time being. According to the Cambridge fire chief, the inspector announced that if any more plays were going to be put on in Sanders, somebody would have to build a proscenium arch with an asbestos curtain. The president of HTW suggested that the inspector inform the University on this point, but as yet no one has heard anything about it. But the "no scenery" dictum still stands.
As far as Sanders is concerned the Theater Workshop has simply given up. It is going elsewhere; not that there's anywhere much else to go, but the Sanders situations has just proven too heavy a load to bear. HDC is wavering on the brink. Sanders is out of the question for its spring play, and the Club has managed to squeeze into the Brattle Sreet Theater. Beyond that, HDC doesn't know.
Sanders' deficiencies can, nevertheless, easily be explained. It wasn't meant to be a theater in the first place. It was intended for concerts and forums, and, through the years, the University has obviously kept this consideration in mind. Rulings prevent nails from being driven into the woodwork, because they might disfigure the stage for its paramount functions as a concert or lecture platform. Scenery has had to be hauled on and off stage for each performance or rehearsal; there are no dressing rooms or places where stage crews can build scenery.
As an auditorium, therefore, Sanders has ben held firm against any and all attempts to mould it into some form approaching that of a theater. It has been a crude, and temporary shelter for student dramatics; and at that, the best available. Its apparent demise as such leaves Harvard as the only major university in the country without a theater.