Budget Cuts Jeopardize Future of the Theatre Arts

By Callie Little and Ali Ragsdale

The future of the theatre arts at the University of Mississippi may be jeopardized due to statewide education budget cuts, according to some members of the theatre arts department.

 “We are small department and we do not have very much fat. So, I have no idea what will the future hold,” chair of the theatre arts department, Dr. Rhona Justice-Malloy, said. She also said that although she expects the extent of the cuts to be determined this coming January, she has no idea how much the theatre arts department will be affected.

 The department is already experiencing competition for existing University funds after the state cut five from the education budget, or about $3.7 million for Ole Miss.

 In response, the theatre arts department has cut back on the use of props and costumes during various main stage shows. In addition, the department is using advertisements, such as Daily Mississippian ads and flyers, to bring attention to the main stage theatrical productions.

 Currently, the main stage productions produce enough income to keep the program afloat. Malloy said that selecting popular productions that will generate enough outside income for the department is crucial for the survival of the theatre arts.

 Nevertheless, some theatre professors said that generating enough income for future productions may become a serious issue if the economy continues to worsen. Theatre professor Joe Turner Cantu said, “Everyone is having to tighten their belt, everybody. Every university, every theater, regional, or Broadway; everyone is having to tighten their belt because of this economy. “

 Theatre major Sam Damare said that the theatre department is already currently suffering due to the economy. “If we had more of the money, if those cuts weren’t so severe the things we could do would be phenomenal. We would be able to renovate our theatres, have more costumes, have better technology, and it would just soar,” Damare said.

 Considering that the University spends 51 percent of its budget on salaries and 18 percent on contractual services, any increased funding requests from the theatre arts program must compete with requests for such things as building maintenance, new food options in the Union, and remodeling the Turner Center.

 Film director Dr. James Shollenberger said he realizes that the budget cuts are going to hurt the entire university and is not sure that the theatre department will be a high priority to those determining the cuts. He said, “I would love to say I think the arts should be a very high priority. But to be honest, to say what we do is more important that what physics does or pharmacy is a decision that has to be made by people looking at the big picture.”

 Still, some members of the theatre arts believe that this department is essential to the university. 

 “We are absolutely necessary given the fact that this campus is a liberal arts university and part of a liberal arts education is creating students that have lifelong curiosity and will be good citizens of the world. And that involves the arts,” Malloy said.

 “I think the arts in general are important for any campus, and any civilization because it opens people up and shows people that there is more to life than football,” said Damare.

 Cantu said that he feels that theatre acts as a mirror of society and connects all individuals through live performances. Additionally, he said that theatre “is an umbrella for all the humanities. It encompasses history, design, psychology, and sociology. You can go down the list it encompasses everything.”

 Theatre and dance professor, Jennifer Mizenko, said that society turns to theatre and dance to tell their story. She said, “This is where the golden nugget lies, this is where we explore the human condition and what it is to be alive and be human.”

 Budget cuts or not, some are confident Ole Miss theatre will continue to produce great works.

 Cantu said that using a little creativity in theatre production goes a long way. He said, “You know in theatre we learn to make do with what we have and we learn to make things out of nothing.”

 Theatre major Anna Donnell said, “We have very creative people that are taking the problems that we might experience and just still putting our best foot forward and making something that can be great for everybody.”

The University of Mississippi's total 2009 funds according to the UM faculty senate.

Funding for the department of Theatre Arts falls under the category of "On Campus Contractual Services."

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~ by aeragsda on November 16, 2009.

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