The Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club (HRDC) took up a review this week of its policy allowing outside actors to participate in Common Casting and Harvard productions. Despite the recent influx of non-Harvard actors participating in Common Casting, HRDC should keep its policy just the way it is—and Harvard should pick up the slack and increase theater opportunities and classes so that students have additional ways to get involved in drama.
Currently, in accordance with Harvard College rules, no more than half of the participants in any officially sanctioned organization—in this case the cast of a play—may contain students or community members from outside of Harvard. This 50 percent cut-off is a good compromise, allowing for all the positive effects of having non-Harvard actors while still ensuring a majority of the people on the stage calls Harvard home.
This year, numerous students from schools such as Emerson College and the Boston Conservatory—students who often have extensive theater training—auditioned for Harvard productions. These student actors can make valuable contributions to Harvard theater. Since the College has no degree-granting department in theater arts and offers very few courses in acting and directing, Harvard students have a great deal to gain from collaborating with experienced conservatory actors. Furthermore, with 20 to 30 productions every semester, actors are constantly in high demand. With no outside actors, the shortage would be exacerbated.
Interacting with actors from outside of Harvard also helps connect the Harvard theater community to the rest of Boston. Presumably, non-Harvard actors help draw in non-Harvard audiences. This benefit is particularly relevant considering the difficulty of filling all the seats for the Loeb Drama Center Mainstage productions every semester. Also, a larger pool of actors auditioning leads to higher quality productions. Better shows will likewise attract larger audiences, and for the rest of us, they just make for better entertainment.
We recognize that this recent increase of non-Harvard actors in Harvard plays means there are fewer roles to go around, which is why we call on Harvard to increase other theater opportunities for students. The Committee on the Dramatic Arts offers only limited acting and directing training considering the extensive amount of theater activity on campus. There is clearly a strong demand for more formal instruction open not only to those who perform well in auditions but all potential thespians, and such training can only make Harvard students more competitive in future Common Castings. Although such a concerted effort to expand and enhance theater instruction at Harvard would likely require additional faculty and funding, these much-needed improvements would be well worth the cost.
Dissent: Save Roles for Harvard Actors
Productions that receive extensive—if not sole—support from the University, both financially and in terms of performance space, should not deny roles to Harvard students in favor of outsiders. This is especially true given how few opportunities there are for students to participate in drama production on campus, the current crunch on space for student groups and the great number of students who fail to land a role in any show whatsoever.
While there are undoubtedly benefits to our actors learning from others, displacing Harvard students from productions held at the University is hardly the way to help them improve their acting. If Harvard is unwilling to get rid of these interlopers altogether, it should at least scale back their participation to a more reasonable 20 percent maximum so as to retain the benefits of their participation while maintaining the Harvard character of its shows.
—Ya’ir G. Aizenman ’05, Katie M. Dimengo ’04,
Paul C. Schultz ’03 and Luke Smith ’04