Discussions for performance signboards underway

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Photo by Jennifer Lu.

After residing on the corner of Elm Street and High Street for over 22 years, the painted wooden signboards that have traditionally served as advertisements for performing arts shows are no longer there.

Ever since the signboards were taken down, student groups and University administrators have discussed potential replacement advertising systems, though no formal decisions have been made yet. In the meantime, the space the signboards used to occupy remains vacant.

In the middle of November, two of the five boards fell out of their metal frame and onto the sidewalk after the frame broke due to rust damage. Yale Drama Coalition President Nicole Teran ’15 contacted the Undergraduate Production (UP) office, which is responsible for ensuring student safety when using equipment such as the signboards. The Yale Office of Facilities then removed the boards and their frame in late November, after discovering that the frame was damaged beyond repair.

“I hope that the next iteration of signage can preserve what was loved about the signboards, while being easier and safer for students to use,” said Kate Krier, the head of UP.

In conversations with UP, students have suggested a number of potential replacements for the boards, ranging from wooden boards identical to the original signboards to large electronic display screens, said Senior Technical Director of UP Rorie Fitzsimons. He noted that though the search process is still in its early stages, he believes the performing arts community is somewhat divided between low-tech and high-tech advertising solutions. Fitzsimons said that the signboards’ primary users were improvisational comedy groups, adding that these groups tended to favor a more technologically advanced alternative to heavy wooden boards, based on past conversations with group leaders.

After contacting all performing arts groups that have used the signboards in the past two years to ask for suggestions, the YDC and UP jointly hosted an open forum on Dec. 6 attended mostly by students in various theatre organizations. Students at the forum were largely against a high-tech solution, arguing that the signboards’ handmade quality distinguishes them from most other forms of advertising on campus. Ethan Karetsky ’14, the former Vice President of the YDC, said at the forum that painting the signboards is seen as a “rite of passage,” as freshmen are often given the task and alumni frequently speak with nostalgia about decorating the boards.

Fitzsimons said that while students have listed a range of requirements they think the replacement system should satisfy, nearly all students he has spoken with want the replacements to occupy the original location of the signboards. YDC Vice President Skyler Ross ’16 stressed that the corner of Elm Street and High Street is a highly visible area that serves as a central location of the Yale campus. Teran added that the signboards were particularly effective in advertising shows to those not in contact with performing arts groups through social media sites.

While students and administrators search for a solution, Teran said, performing arts groups are increasingly relying on alternative forms of advertising, including fliers and invitations through email and social media. Jake Dawe ’15, who directs Red Hot Poker and is a member of The Viola Question, said he is saddened by the absence of the boards, but believes that his groups get most of their turnout through online invitations and events. Both of his groups have held shows since the removal of the boards, Dawe added, and have not seen lower attendances. But William Adams ’15 said that The Yale Exit Players, which he directs, had a smaller audience at its most recent show, though he added that this may have been the result of many events happening that same night rather than of signboards’ removal.

Of 19 students surveyed, nine said they paid attention to the information the signboards displayed. However, only four said they noticed the boards’ absence, two of which were involved in groups that used the signboards.

Rae Taylor-Burns ’15 said she did not notice that they boards had been removed, adding that she thinks they were as noticeable as any flier or Facebook event. Caroline Smith ’14 said she thinks most students do not rely much on the boards, adding that they may have functioned more as a bonding experience for performing arts groups than as a source of information.

Still, Smith added that the boards appealed to her aesthetically. Julia Schlesinger ’15 also said she appreciated the boards’ uniqueness and the work that went into them, despite not having noticed their removal.

Students expressed confidence that the administration will take student suggestions seriously in the search process. Teran said she does not anticipate any financial obstacles in the process, but noted she does not know the exact source of the funds that will be required for the replacement. Former YDC board member Stuart Teal ’14 said he is pleased with the administration’s willingness to listen to students’ opinions. Yale College Dean of the Arts Susan Cahan said that while other University offices, such as the Office of Facilities and Office of the Secretary, may eventually become involved in the search process, she expects the student body to play a significant role as well.

Yale College has five improv groups and three sketch comedy groups.

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