As the backbone of theater, dance and photography at Yale, a Sudler Grant entitles the recipient to reimburse almost all costs of producing a show. However, the true power of the Sudler program lies in Section 5 of its guidelines. “Admission may not be charged for Sudler-sponsored projects.”
Last spring alone, over 40 productions took advantage of Sudler. These in turn generated over 8,500 seat requests, according to the Yale Dramatic Coalition: Every one of these seats was free.
This Family Weekend, students and parents alike will take up hundreds of seats. These three days are perhaps the best opportunity of the year for student organizations and theatrical productions to showcase their work. Yet as I browsed through the various Facebook invitations flooding my inbox, I was dismayed by a recurring theme: “Student tickets, $5.”
There’s nothing wrong with having parents pay. However, what about all the students who want to attend alone? The problem extends beyond this weekend; student groups frequently charge their peers to enjoy other shows throughout the year. This needs to stop.
Some events and groups are justified in charging. For instance, college dances and Woolsey events must pay for security and off-campus shows must rent spaces. However, barring extenuating circumstances, I have a hard time justifying paying to see student groups in Yale spaces. The show doesn’t cost them anything to put on, so why should it cost me?
Student groups are entitled to apply for up to $600 in reimbursements per semester from the Undergraduate Organizations Funding Committee (UOFC). If you look carefully at your Yale expense statements, you might notice a small $75 charge on there called the “Student Activities Fee.” About half of this goes to Yale College Council, with most of the rest comprising the UOFC’s budget. A few handy abacus calculations will tell us that, at $38 per student per semester and 5,275 students, student-provided funding gives the UOFC and the organizations and events it funds around $200,000 per semester. Currently, there are 537 eligible organizations, three-quarters of which request funding. Most never claim the maximum $600, so if we allotted funds equally, each group would receive $500 per semester.
We already pay almost $40 to fund the UOFC, which funds the student organizations putting on shows this Family Weekend. Now these groups are asking for even more money, just to see shows that, essentially, we have already paid for.
How ungrateful of them.
“But we have to pay $15,000 to produce a CD!” these groups may respond. “It costs thousands of dollars to go on our spring trip to Albania!” they object. “The UOFC refuses to pay for our alcohol!” they say. But how does any of this relate to putting on a show in the Davenport Common Room? When a group performs on-campus, they entertain their peers and contribute to Yale’s rich artistic culture. They should not be exploiting these events to fund anything other than that specific performance.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am the business manager of The Viola Question, an improv comedy group that happily uses UOFC funding. After managing group expenses for almost a year and a half, I simply cannot justify charging students for our shows. In any case, such profits would constitute only a pittance of our budget in comparison to off-campus shows. We pay for all our expenses through these, UOFC funding and Family Weekend (we charge parents).
The going rate these days for an improv show is around $300 per hour. A capella? $600 or more. This makes charging students seem lazy. Charge students, or do a single off-campus show? That should be an easy question to answer.
I don’t mean to sound contemptuous. I really do love attending every on-campus show possible. All I ask is that student organizations either stop taking UOFC funding or stop charging students. Some groups already practice one of these policies, but it’s an ideal to which all performers should commit. Let the $75 we already spend benefit the undergraduate culture at Yale — not a record production or overseas trip. Performing for my friends is the ultimate satisfaction of being in a group. When I want to pay for my plane ticket, I’ll go charge a private school for an hour of jokes, not my friends.
This column brought to you, like all my shows this year, free-of-charge.
Charlie Croom is a junior in Silliman College and a former photography editor for the News.