The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

University Theatre Budget Fits Rising National Trend

3 min read

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Even with the economy tightening college budgets, many schools, including UMW, have decided that putting extra funds into their theatre departments is crucial.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s article “Much Ado About Costly Art Centers,” many universities, including James Madison University, George Mason University and Sam Houston State University, have put millions of dollars into building extravagant art and theatre centers.

Even though all of these universities, like UMW, made the decision to build these centers long before the recession came, the schools are still using the money to go ahead with the projects.  The Chronicle stated that the universities see revenue from theater departments as a way to make up for other areas that are not fulfilling their earning potential.

Renovations to the Klein Theatre took place between June 2009 and April 2010. Prior to the overhaul, the theater was in poor condition, with nonfunctional lighting and sounds systems.

The decision was made to renovate the theatre, “nearly a decade ago when the university issued bonds to pay for a number of capital projects,” said Gregg Stull, the theatre and dance department chair.
“It took several years before the university decided to begin the project and a few more years of planning before the work began,” Stull said.

The theatre has not been fully renovated in nearly 50 years, Stull added.

According to Paul Messplay, executive director of the Office of Budget and Financial Analysis , the renovations were paid for with two bonds that were purchased by the state roughly ten years ago and earmarked specifically for the theatre.

The bonds were worth $5,000,000 and $1,750,000, respectively.

According to the operating budget summaries for 2010-2011, the theatre and dance department’s funding has been increasing slightly since the 2006-2007 school year. At that time the budget was $635,569, and it has gradually grown to $707,308 for this school year.

Messplay explained that three main changes have been given to the theatre department in this year’s budget.

“First, a permanent funding increase of $35,000 was provided to Theatre’s production budget to support three shows each academic year,” Messplay said. Previously, the theater department put on two shows per year.

“Second, the Provost’s Office provided one-time funding of $37,000 to support additional finishing touches to the Klein Theatre renovation project,” Messplay said. “Third, funding was provided to convert a part-time staff support position in the theatre department to a full-time status.”

These projects have been controversial on campuses nationwide as students worry about the increases in tuition and faculty worry about budgeting leaning away from their salaries, to fund these art centers, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

“But colleges that have built performing-arts facilities say their public offerings—underwritten by a mix of ticket revenue and donor gifts—are important paybacks to the taxpayers and communities that support the institutions,” the article stated.

Even though UMW has not spent nearly as much on theatre renovations as other universities in the area, some people are concerned that it is still more than is needed.

“I feel like there are a lot of other programs that don’t get a lot of money,” freshmen Mackenzie Walsh said.  “I’m on the riding team, and we have to pay our own way to competitions.”

However, considering that the renovations were done in response to poor conditions and not purely in order to attract a bigger audience and more revenue, the new Klein theatre seems to be welcomed on the campus by many.

“I would rather see them spend a little money here and there to fix up historical buildings on campus like Klein Theatre then have them spend money on another monstrosity like Eagle Village,” sophomore Kate Gibson said.  “I don’t understand why we have to build these super-dorms when we can fix up the smaller buildings on campus that already have good bones.”

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” will be the final show of the school year and the first musical to be performed in the theatre since being renovated.  It is expected to bring in a wide number of audience members just as with every other show the Klein Theatre produces.

“As always, we have a great number of involved students and strong audiences for our work,” Stull said, adding, “[the show] promises to be a really great time in the theatre with memorable songs and terrifically funny moments.”