Bemidji State to cut theater program: Madrigal Dinners, community may be affected
Officials at Bemidji State University announced Tuesday that BSU's theater program will no longer be offered to freshmen starting next school year.
The program is scheduled to be eliminated by spring 2012 under President Richard Hanson's recalibration plan for BSU and Northwest Technical College.
The announcement came five days after Hanson first unveiled the plan to faculty and students through a series of on-campus forums. Hanson said Thursday he could not announce the second program to be eliminated because he had not notified faculty at that time.
More than 30 full-time equivalent faculty positions will be cut under the recalibration plan. The art history and theater programs will also be eliminated.
According to BSU officials, the plan is in response to BSU needing to reduce its budget by 10 percent, or roughly $5 million, in order to balance its budget. This is attributed to the state's $6.2 billion budget deficit.
Patrick Carriere, assistant professor of theater at BSU, said he understands state schools are no longer funded as much as they used to be, but he is unhappy about the changes.
"Everyone is in some type of a budget crisis. Administration made the decision they felt the school needed and theater isn't something they wanted," Carriere said. "I think Bemidji is a strong arts community. It's unfortunate our university is moving in another direction."
Carriere, who grew up in Bemidji, is a graduate of BSU. He has taught as an assistant professor since 2004, teaching theater and humanities classes. He recalled as a young child being interested in theater after watching BSU theater productions.
"One of the things that got me interested were the teachers who were here. They really inspired me to carry on," Carriere said. "BSU has a long tradition of theater, dating back to when it was a teachers' college. This (elimination of the theater program) would be stopping that tradition."
During a press conference Thursday, Hanson stated he does not see the local economy or community being impacted by the recalibration effort. But Carriere disagrees.
"I do believe we serve the community," he said.
This spring, Carriere said, the theater department will use a grant it has received from the Region II Arts Council in inviting local schools to a production of William Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream." He said he will soon be sending information to schools soon.
"I think we are a part of the quality of life in the community," he said. "Students contribute to other organizations outside of BSU as well. Being that we are the only four-year institution between Fargo and Duluth, and the only real four-year theater program in the area, that eliminates the possibility of that kind of theater for a wide region of people."
Carriere said he has heard a variety of reactions from students after the program cut was announced.
"I've heard lots of worries and support and regrets," he said. "Of course our students are devastated."
When asked what his plans are after the program is eliminated, Carrier said, "There is no position at BSU I would step into."
Bradley Logan, music professor at BSU, said the reduction of two music faculty and the elimination of the theater department will likely have an effect on BSU's Madrigal Dinner, which completed its 42nd year last December. The Madrigal Dinner is a 21st Century recreation of the Renaissance feasts held in England during Christmas.
"The show has been directed by student directors since I took over 13 years ago, so this will make it more difficult," Logan said. "We would need the lighting maintenance of the ballroom."
In recent years, theater students would supply and manage the lighting for the Madrigal Dinners.
"Hopefully we can find a way around it," Logan said. "It is an inconvenience and could probably be hard to manage in the future."
Logan said theater productions, musical concerts and athletics often represent the university.
"These are three things that people who aren't directly connected often look at as representative of the university," Logan said.
While he is disappointed with the cuts made, Logan said he understands where the president is coming from.
"He has a tough job," Logan said. "Jobs or money, cuts have to be made. It's not going to affect us all that well."
P. Joan Poor, dean of the College of Arts and Science, which houses the Department of Humanities, could not be reached for comment. An office administrator said she was attending a conference all week.
A Facebook group dedicated to "saving the BSU art department" has been started. Internet users have commented about starting a massive letter-writing campaign and handing out bumper stickers displaying the phrase, "Keep art in education, save the BSU art department." One person suggested the thousands of online supporters of Gaea, the beaver sculpture in downtown Bemidji, may also support trying to keep the theater and art history programs at BSU.
For more information about the recalibration plan, visit www.bemidjistate.edu/offices/president/budget/.