The curtain comes down on Evergreen’s Experimental Theater program

Rehearsals continue for the student-choreographed performance of "Inbetween" Tuesday at the Experimental Theater at The Evergreen State College. The college is shutting down the theater program because of budget cuts.
Rehearsals continue for the student-choreographed performance of "Inbetween" Tuesday at the Experimental Theater at The Evergreen State College. The college is shutting down the theater program because of budget cuts. sbloom@theolympian.com

The Evergreen State College’s Experimental Theater — a 200-seat black box that has hosted countless student productions, visiting performers from all over the world, and such events as the Seattle Rep’s production of “My Name Is Rachel Corrie” — has fallen victim to budget cuts.

“InBetween,” a concert of student-choreographed dances set for Friday and Saturday, will be the final performance in the theater before it closes, along with the college’s scene and costume shops.

“It’s obviously a step back for the community at Evergreen not to have a functioning theater,” said Cosmo Rapaport, a senior studying dance and one of the choreographers for the performance. “The communication between Evergreen and its greater community will be significantly cut off, because that’s the venue that people could come to and see what Evergreen is doing.”

“There will still be productions,” said college spokesman Zach Powers, but they will be “more limited in scope.”

The closure of the theater, which will save about $250,000, is part of a plan to cut $5.9 million, or 10.6 percent, from the college’s budget in the wake of lower enrollment, Powers said.

“Given the scale of the reductions, we need to make difficult choices,” he said, adding that student enrollment in theater and dance has declined in recent years along with the number of theater and dance faculty. “We are no longer able to offer consistent opportunities for depth in theater and dance.”

The Experimental Theater hosted about 10 productions during the 2017-18 academic year, said technical director Jerry Berebitsky, who began work at the college in the fall and whose position is one of three staff posts being eliminated in conjunction with the closure.

Most of the spaces in the Communications Building — including the Recital Hall, which also seats up to 200 but lacks a lighting grid and the capacity for flexible staging — will remain open.

The loss of the scene and costume shops will affect even small-scale productions, Berebitsky said, adding that the shops supported about 200 events over the past nine months.

“As a new employee, what surprised me is the people kept saying the performing arts here have declined, but I feel that they are vibrant,” he said.

He’s talked with students who were deeply affected by the opportunity to perform, he said — and he’s been impressed by the quality of work the students produce.

One example was last weekend’s Experimental Theater production of the comedies “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind” and “Lysistrata,” directed by theater professor Walter Grodzik.

“People were crying in the audience because they were laughing so hard,” Berebitsky said.

“It’s not that the work has gotten flat here,” he said. “It’s powerful and moving and all the things it should be.”

Though theatrical productions will be scaled back, “there are no curricular offerings being canceled as a result of the closure of these areas,” Powers said.

The cuts will affect course offerings in the future, though. The college aims to keep the student-teacher ratio at 25:1, said David McAvity, the academic dean for the budget. So fewer enrolled students mean fewer faculty and fewer programs.

The college plans to eliminate the equivalent of 24 full-time teaching positions and 39 staff positions, McAvity said. That includes 20 staffers who’ve been notified that their positions will be eliminated. Many of the remaining cuts will be to positions that already are vacant, and some adjunct faculty members won’t be offered contract renewals.

As part of the cuts, the theater and dance programs will lose the equivalent of 2.5 full time positions — including two vacancies that won’t be filled — along with the three staff positions that supported the theater and the scene and costume shops.

In the 2018-19 academic year, there will be just one full-time faculty member specializing in theater and one focusing on dance, but the college’s interdisciplinary approach means that there are other performing-arts opportunities.

“Next year, we’ll have nine faculty teaching in full-time arts programs and four in part-time and Evening/Weekend programs,” McAvity said.

Many theater students, particularly freshman and sophomores, are concerned by the cuts, said Miles Sennett, a graduating senior studying performance.

“Honestly, I don’t see that there’s a future here,” said Sennett, who works part time in the costume shop. “I’ve already seen people making arrangements to leave.”

“In a conversation that we were having with the deans at a meeting, they suggested that the students find other schools,” he said. “They were like, ‘Maybe you should find other schools if you’re interested in strictly performing arts.’ ”

Next fall, Sennett will be moving to Chicago to work with Prop Thtr. He was offered a technical position after doing an internship there in the winter.

“I wouldn’t have had this opportunity without the connections I made through working in theater here,” he said.

On stage this weekend at Evergreen

The Evergreen State College is closing its Experimental Theater and costume and scene shops. This weekend’s productions — including the last one in the theater itself — are the final opportunities to take in the work being made at the college before the cuts go into effect.

  • “Love/Sick,” by John Cariani, is made up of darkly comic vignettes about love and loss. 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Seminar 2 D4107
  • “InBetween,” the final performance in the Experimental Theater, is a dance concert featuring about 18 pieces by student choreographers. 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Experimental Theater, Communications Building
  • “Samsara: Death and Rebirth” is the final Odissi dance performance at the college, which gained international attention for its three decades of teaching and supporting the classical Indian dance form. 8 p.m. Saturday, Recital Hall, Communications Building

Where: The Evergreen State College, 2700 Evergreen Parkway NW, Olympia

Tickets: Free; $3 for parking

More information: 360-687-7444, evergreen.edu/calendar