You Can Never Have Too Much Theater: Drama Ensues over Second Stage’s Stacked Spring Season
Wesleyan’s student-run theater crew Second Stage, which does not deny the chance to direct a show to anyone who completes an application, is putting up a record-setting 26 shows this semester. While this is a cause for celebrating the incredibly vibrant theater community on campus as well as students’ initiative and commitment to theater, the surplus of shows also produces a bit of a crisis.
“It’s very exciting in that it shows that the theater community at Wesleyan is growing, but it’s going to put a strain on our resources,” said Dylan Zwickel ’14, the Managing Liaison of Second Stage, who handles the budget, scheduling and communication with other groups on campus. “There’s only so much space to do shows, and there’s only so much money.”
While budgetary issues remain a concern, finding space to put up each show is the real issue. With 26 shows and 12 weekends in the semester, not every show can take place in the ’92 Theater. When that ideal venue is full, shows must find an alternative space, or “alt space,” for performance. Typically, “alt-spaced” shows simply move to the WestCo Café, the Nics Lounge, or another venue (like outdoors) that the directors specifically had in mind. But this semester, there are some weekends when an unprecedented three shows will have to find space other than the ’92. Directors are going to have to get creative: the onus is on them to find (and reserve) a space, and if they cannot do so, their show cannot happen.
“Second Stage won’t tell you you can’t put up your show, but if you can’t find space, you’ll tell us you can’t put on your show,” Zwickel said.
Of course, Second Stage does not want this to happen. The group is so concerned about the prospect of shows not being able to find or use alt spaces that it has brought back an old position on staff for this semester: Alt Space Coordinator. The Alt Space Coordinator will be responsible for cataloging and scouting alternative theater venues on campus and then accumulating knowledge of the technical requirements of the spaces and what it takes to put on a show in each of them. The point, say Second Stage staffers, is that being “alt-spaced” is not the end of the world.
“When you’re in an alt space, it really needs to be seen as an opportunity to do something creative and come up with a way to use an alternative space,” explained Evan DelGaudio ’12, Buildings and Maintenance Liaison and campus theater tech extraordinaire. “It’s not a setback.”
Even if every show can find a venue, funding will still present a problem. Shows need money to purchase anything from rights—permission to use the text of the play or musical—to costumes, props, lights, microphones, programs, and posters. Each semester, Second Stage goes to the SBC and requests a budget based on preliminary estimates from show applications. This semester, although Second Stage has over twice the amount of shows it normally has, it has received far less than twice the funding. For the first time since anyone on staff can remember, the group is concerned about having enough money to go around to all the shows.
Previously, no hard limits were placed on directors—they were simply told to clear all purchases with Second Stage first, then buy the cheapest things they could find. Money was given out on a show-by-show basis, and the actual budget of a show wasn’t known until four weeks before opening night, when the directors start meeting regularly with staff. Second Stage also frequently made capital purchases of items that were for everyone to use, such as light boards and tools.
This semester, things will be different. The show application includes a caveat warning directors that they are will likely receive no more money than their tentative budget. Second Stage will also be stricter than usual in what it allow directors to purchase and will be avoiding making capital purchases. Still, the staff remains optimistic.
“I really do think we’ll be able to give directors what they need as long as people are reasonable and...understand that they might have to prioritize things,” Zwickel said. “Everyone is going to have to make due with a little less, but I don’t think we’ll have to compromise anyone’s vision.”
Staff aren’t the only ones who are working to get through this situation, however.
“The thing that makes me really happy is that all the directors who want to do shows are totally understanding of the situation with their respective budgets. We told them, ‘We have a lot of shows, so be reasonable.’ And they were,” said Blair Laurie ’12, a former Managing Liaison, who is currently in charge of rights and royalties and a WesCeleb.
Second Stage is also asking for donations to help make sure it can make all 26 shows happen. The organization is asking students, parents, and alumni for support by mailing in checks or giving money to Kristin McQueeney, the Administrative Assistant for the Theater Department.
“People have been so great about donating!” gushed Laurie. “It warms my heart that people care about student theater.”
Another potential obstacle this semester is the strain the 26 shows are going to put on the Center for the Arts resources. Second Stage relies heavily on CFA supplies, including its costume shop and props, and McQueeney, who handles Second Stage’s receipts. Normally this is not an issue, but in weeks when there are three shows taking out costumes and props, the CFA will prioritize its own shows.
“It’s going to be more work for everyone. We don’t want to give them more work to do, but we can’t function well without them,” Zwickel explained.
Still, Second Stage is making preparations to lighten the CFA’s load. This semester, it is now managing the acquisition of rights and royalties itself instead of relying on the institution.
In light of this mixed bag of a situation, directors are preparing for the challenges ahead. Shelby Arnold ’12, who has directed two shows in previous semesters, had an inkling that this semester would be difficult and started preparing for her two shows in advance. She chose small-cast, low-budget plays and assembled her crew early on in the fall semester.
“I think it’s great that they’re trying to do stuff differently and that Second Stage is trying to help as many people [as they can] put their shows up, but I think it’s going to be a really stressful semester for people,” Arnold said.
Despite issues of finding enough space, having enough money, and overly taxing the CFA, Second Stage remains confident that it will be able to handle everything and thrilled so many people want to do theater at Wesleyan.
“The staff’s on board,” DelGaudio said. “I think we could have like 50 shows and the staff would say, ‘Let’s do it.’”
Asked if the incredibly full Second Stage season was truly a crisis, Zwickel said, “It’s a difficult situation, but if we really look at it, it’s awesome. I don’t think there’s another school in the country that can say it’s putting on 26 shows this semester directed and run entirely by students. We’re going to have one of the most thriving theater communities in the country. So it depends on what you call a crisis.”