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With Brustein's Departure, Students Hope for a Bigger Role at Loeb

By Daniela J. Lamas, Crimson Staff Writer

The University's search for a new director of the Loeb Drama Center is raising hopes among some campus arts aficionados that undergraduates will get expanded access to performance space in the Loeb in future years.

The departure this spring of Loeb Director Robert S. Brustein may give the University an opportunity to renegotiate its contract with the American Repertory Theatre (ART), the Loeb's main tenant.

Brustein has overseen the Loeb and the ART during a time in which students have alleged they do not have sufficient access to the theater's Mainstage.

The Loeb was originally built as a theater space for undergraduates. And in 1979, the ART re-located to the Loeb from New Haven--a move that Harvard thought would give students an opportunity to train with a professional theater company. But the relationship between the ART and Harvard has been strained in recent years, with students clamoring for more access to the Mainstage and the ART eager to keep its own stage time.

Although the ART technically falls under the auspices of Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) Jeremy R. Knowles, Harvard has essentially given the company carte blanche to determine how it allocates performance space. Officials at the ART have said they need to stage a certain number of shows a year to remain viable as a professional theatre company.

Last spring, six students calling themselves the "Steering Committee on Dance," wrote a 70-page report with the help of College officials, which they submitted to Brustein, Robert J. Orchard, the managing director of the Loeb and ART, and other Harvard administrators. The report asked an additional slot on the Loeb Mainstage be allocated for an undergraduate dance show.

But the ART refused to grant the dancers an extra slot on the Mainstage. Undergraduates still stage just four shows a year in the largest dramatic theater space at Harvard.

Outgoing Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club (HRDC) President Jessica Shapiro '01 says she hopes Brustein's successor fosters a stronger relationship between undergraduates and the ART company.

Undergraduates actors could benefit, Shapiro says, from more direct contact with the professionals.

"I think that one great thing about the ART is that they have a tendency to be experimental," Shapiro says. "I hope [we can] open lines of communication between ART and HRDC and foster them actively working together."

The Search

President Neil L. Rudenstine is heading the nation-wide search to find Brustein's successor before Brustein steps down this spring.

Rudenstine says that, working with Brustein and Elizabeth C. Huidekoper, the University's vice-president of finance, he has formed a list of candidates that is roughly 80 names long. He says there are about 20 people at the top of the list, seven or eight of whom are women.

Harvard has combed both the academic and professional theater worlds for potential directors, including repertory theaters located in towns with major universities.

"These people are all over the country...we're staying quite flexible," Rudenstine said.

Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 says although he is not involved in the search process, he is still attuned to its importance.

"We want someone who will work with the College, who has the feeling that students are interesting," he says.

Rudenstine says Harvard may consider altering the 20-year-old agreement that gives the ART time on the Mainstage in exchange for mentoring students involved with the Harvard Radcliffe Dramatic Club (HRDC).

"That's a decision that was made 20 years ago, and that doesn't mean it can't be remade," Rudenstine says.

The dearth of campus theater space available to undergraduates has been a large problem for the dramatic community in recent years, but some say more time on the Mainstage, as well as increased access to a renovated Hasty Pudding stage in a year, could considerably ease the crunch.

But Shapiro says she would be surprised if the new director of the ART gives more time on the Mainstage to undergraduates.

As is, she says, the relationship between the ART the HRDC is a "two-way street. The professionals are all different--some are particularly interested in working with students, some aren't."

Rudenstine says he hopes to name the new director of the ART by the spring.

But a story in the Boston Globe earlier this winter seemed to suggest that Harvard, and not Brustein at the ART, will take the lead role in naming a new director.

Brustein declined comment about the nature of his involvement in the search for his successor.

Orchard said while there are "a number of highly qualified candidates under consideration," he plans to stay with the ART and does not feel he is qualified to assume Brustein's post.

"Like a bad penny I'll be around for a while," Orchard writes in an e-mail message. "But I'm not an artist, I'm a producer. The artistic director should be an artist."

--Staff writer Daniela J. Lamas can be reached at lamas@fas.harvard.edu.

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