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When he stumbled across a copy of the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club (HRDC) constitution a few months ago, Vice President Kenneth P. Herrera ’03 says he didn’t immediately recognize it.
“I hadn’t seen it until this summer,” Herrera says.
But last night, the group’s re-discovered constitution came into the spotlight as HRDC members voted to amend it for the first time in six years, mandating that future HRDC-produced shows involve a marginally higher percentage of Harvard affiliates.
Currently, 50 percent of those working on a production must be Harvard undergraduates.
But after concerns over increased non-Harvard participation in the last year, HRDC members voted last night to require that 60 percent of cast members for all shows in the Loeb Drama Center are “Harvard affiliates and alumni.”
Tonight, HRDC members will gather to vote again, this time to select a new leadership to assume the reins of their organization—which some say has always had trouble deciding exactly what its role should be.
And as they begin to define their purpose on campus, HRDC leadership will need a “specific agenda,” says HRDC member Michael M. Donahue ’03. In the coming year, the leaders selected tonight will prepare to lobby for the resources they need, work with other arts on campus and—all the while—make student theater better.
Fight for Facilities
Student theater has long struggled to secure space on campus.
More recently, theater groups have also begun to contemplate how to work more closely with other student arts, like dance, music and visual arts.
“Everyone stands to suffer when anyone’s group loses space,” says Adrienne M. Minster ’04, a leader in the dance community. “Actors, dancers and musicians are seeking each other out to make art together, when the community stands to lose a lot.”
Beyond performance venues, undergraduates compete with professionals and graduate students for limited storage, rehearsal and construction spaces.
According to Robert J. Orchard, managing director of the American Repertory Theater (ART), which shares the Loeb with the HRDC, lack of space for the performing arts is a “dire situation.”
The crunch comes partially as a result of the current and future loss of spaces, like the dilapidated Hasty Pudding building, which has been awaiting renovation by the College since it purchased the space in 2000.
The ART’s lease on part of Harvard Square’s Unitarian Church basement, which is used by graduate students at the ART’s theater training school, will expire in two years, according to Orchard. With that space gone and no solution in sight, the graduate students’ impending “emergency situation” will only exacerbate the campus-wide crunch.
Rebecca R. Kastleman ’05 says she thinks the lack of a dramatic arts concentration at Harvard partially explains these difficulties in securing resources for the arts. Problems also arise because theater is primarily an undergraduate enterprise.
“One failing of that system is that theater can get thrust to the sidelines,” said Kastleman.
Minster says that although the school’s administration is “very supportive” of art on campus, “there’s a lot more the University could do” to aid the arts community.
And outside of theater, Harvard’s dance community stands to lose the Rieman Dance Center, its most important rehearsal and performance space, in 2005.
The dearth of space has prompted members of both communities to recognize a new impetus for interdisciplinary work.
“The community holds much more power if we’re united,” Donahue says of the different arts constituencies on campus. “We can do much more together,”
Minster and Donahue both emphasized that the need for space resources is not a primary reason for promoting interdisciplinary art, but that they think working together can produce better art.
Marcus Stern, HRDC faculty advisor and ART associate director, says this collaboration can create political leverage.
“I do think bringing the overall artistic community together to lobby as a whole for more rehearsal and performance space on campus is probably very helpful,” he says.
More importantly than the power in numbers that it provides, the reason for collaborating interdisciplinarily is to produce good art, students say.
“The key to the future of art at Harvard is this collaboration,” says Minster. “We all have stuff to learn and we all have stuff to contribute.”
Geordie S. Broadwater ’04 calls other artistic groups “a totally untapped resource” for the HRDC.
Behind the Velvet Curtain
But students say next semester’s HRDC must also strengthen its own community.
The HRDC is a nebulously defined group. Any student who has participated in a show is automatically a member of the HRDC—a rule that, members say, has meant a lack of cohesiveness a within the group.
“We are structured as a very open community,” says current HRDC President Daniel A. Cozzens ’03, who says the group’s e-mail list goes out to over 700 people. “That is a great strength, that people can just come in.”
But Cozzens says this often means that students will participate in one show and then—disinterested in running or not making it past elections to Executive Board positions—“disappearing off the face of the earth.”
Of the 700 to 1,000 students on the e-group, only about 200 to 300 get involved in shows every semester, he says.
HRDC member Jeremy W. Blocker ’04 suggests that the theater group should expect more from its members than simply acting or directing.
There are a variety of ways to do this, he says, “whether it means that you direct one show and do run crew for another, or go to 10 shows in a season, or bring 15 friends to a show so that you’re a significant part of an audience.”
Otherwise, Blocker says, there would be “a bunch of people who do theater but don’t feel they’re in a club.”
Theater ‘Game Plan’
HRDC members also call for concrete change simply improve the shows they produce.
E. Peyton Sherwood ’04, who works on the technical aspects of performance, says there has long been a shortage of technical and production staff for all types of shows, and the problem shows no sign of going away.
In the past, aggressive campaigning to attract people to work on technical aspects of the show hasn’t alleviated the dearth.
“Part of the game plan should be to start early,” he says.
He adds that he hopes additional technical workshops, offered earlier in the semester and more highly publicized, will help solve the chronic shortage in coming years.
Sherwood also suggests a more drastic proposal—decreasing the number of shows put up, particularly in the Loeb Experimental Theater, so that existing technical staff can concentrate to produce better theater without burning out.
Stronger institutional memory could also result in better shows, Herrera says.
“We don’t understand the history of the institution,” says Herrera. “Information is not passed down because every two years, there’s a great turnover and we have to reinvent the wheel.”
Herrera says shows are often repeated over the course of six or seven years and if the group could improve the way it learns as an organization, it could avoid repeating mistakes.
To that end, the group also passed an amendment last night to add a historian to the Board, who will work to compile and maintain a history of information pertinent to all shows put on by the HRDC.
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