Expansion may relieve rehearsal-space crunch

With an increase of more than 10 percent in students enrolled in Yale College, administrators know that the University will have to add facilities of all kinds in order to transition smoothly to a world of 14 residential colleges. But even before the University expands, students and faculty have bemoaned a shortage of performance and rehearsal space for artistically inclined Yalies — a shortage that will only grow more acute once new colleges go up along Prospect Street.

Those concerns were addressed head on in a 100-page report released last month by two committees exploring the impact of expansion, which would add 600 undergraduates, on academics and student life. The report said the University would have to be aggressive in increasing the amount of performance space available to undergraduates.

Faculty and administrators interviewed largely echoed the committees, sounding a common refrain about the current challenges facing the arts at Yale: There is simply not enough space to meet demands.

Even students taking theater classes for credit, for example, have trouble finding spaces in which to act. Only two rehearsal spaces at 220 York St. and one performance space in the Whitney Humanities Center — which doubles as a lecture hall — are available for Theater Studies classes, said Toni Dorfman, the director of undergraduate studies for the Department of Theater Studies.

“This year for curricular senior projects, students’ productions have had to spill over into college theaters, the chapel in Dwight Hall, and, to come, a Davenport courtyard,” she wrote in an e-mail. “The Whitney slots they want for their shows are already booked.”

Dancers on campus also face a serious shortage of available spaces. Last year, the University banned students from dancing in most of the spaces they had previously used to rehearse because those floors were too rigid, rendering them unsafe. That left only four dance studios on campus — two in Payne Whitney Gymnasium, one in Trumbull College and one in Branford College — available to students.

Maggie Burrows ’10, who has worked on several plays and is also dancing in an upcoming show, said finding space in which to hold performances and practice is a constant struggle.

“It is very hard to get spaces, particularly for dance, unless you are endorsed by one of the major dance groups on campus,” she wrote in an e-mail.

In dire circumstances, classrooms — such as room 114 in Sheffield Sterling Srathcona Hall, the Whitney Humanities Center and Sudler Hall in William L. Harkness Hall — act as surrogate performance spaces for students, according to Senior Deputy Registrar Diane Rodrigues, who is in charge of booking classroom spaces. But these solutions are quick and dirty, she said — the rooms lack appropriate lighting, backstage areas and other technical necessities for theatrical performance.

“They’re all inadequate,” Rodrigues said. “It is really unfortunate we don’t have more spaces on campus.”

The pressing lack of space did not escape the attention of members of the committee that examined the expansion’s effect on student life. Members of the committee said the energy the administration has expended looking into expansion has created a window for remedying Yale’s deficiencies, even if the University ends up not expanding.

Joseph Roach, who consulted with the student life committee, said he is pleased with the report’s acknowledgment of the need to add facilities in the performing arts — both rehearsal and performance space — in the event of expansion. But Yale should add space even if it does not expand, he said.

“It is a good time to take stock of what we need even if we didn’t add colleges,” he said.

The lack of space was addressed by a committee following up on a 2003 report by the Committee on Yale College Education, convened under former Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead. Saybrook College Master and former History of Art Department Chair Mary Miller, who served both on the follow-up committee and the student-life committee, said although the situation has improved since 2003, Yale still has work to do.

Last month’s report noted the peculiar nature of undergraduate involvement in the arts. Students pursue the performing arts both inside and outside the classroom, increasing the stresses on facilities, the report said.

“The arts are the vocation and avocation of so many students at Yale, and the facilities need to be integrated with this notion of the coursework and the out-of-class time that is spent in fine and performing arts,” Miller said.

While the committees recommended that the University build dozens of new facilities to alleviate the space crunch, the potential location of such facilities is a hot topic.

The question committee members asked themselves, Roach and Miller said, was whether Yale should continue its tradition of a diasporic arrangement of rehearsal spaces or follow Harvard and Princeton in building a single large arts complex.

Of course, the report said, the new buildings will not solve any problems unless Yale hires more faculty to enhance arts education as the undergraduate population grows. The committees recommended the appointment of an associate dean for the arts in Yale College who would oversee arts programs, working closely with the deputy provost for the arts, the faculty of arts and sciences and the professional schools.

The report also points to the need for the addition of more faculty. Roach emphasized that classes in theater studies must been small.

“In the arts, there is a law of diminishing returns on class size — an acting class can’t be bigger than 12 and succeed,” he said. “It is the nature of that art.”

Expansion also opens the door to new possibilities at Yale’s arts professional schools. Although theater studies is a department in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the segment of Yale’s faculty that administers Yale College, the department occasionally shares faculty with the School of Drama. Expanding the College could allow the School of Drama to increase its faculty, as well.

“The School of Drama anticipates seeking targeted opportunities for joint faculty appointments with the Theater Studies program to provide excellent instruction in those areas of the curriculum related to practice,” School of Drama Dean James Bundy DRA ’95 wrote in an e-mail. “Certainly, the robust and relevant program of Yale College is a foundation of the University’s excellence, and I have every hope that this expansion will strengthen the University overall, including the School of Drama and Yale Rep.”

At its meeting last month, the Yale Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, directed the administration to proceed with planning for the two new residential colleges. The Corporation will vote on whether to proceed with expansion either at its next meeting, in April, or in June.

Comments

  • GED

    How about an online reservation system,so you can see if space is available. Also you can prove you have a registration to make it easier if you need security to open a space.