SMU drama society squeezed for space

Miscommunications with university threaten their use of main theatre

Ian Kenny is disappointed that the drama society does not have priority booking for the theatre space, which was being used as a classroom yesterday. Photo: Lauren Olivia Hughes.

Saint Mary’s University has one of the oldest drama societies in the country, but the current group of students are having trouble maintaining their show space.

The drama society, dating back to 1907, used to have sole booking rights over the McNally Main Theatre Auditorium but now they only have access to the back half of the room.

The front half, which is divided off by a curtain, is often reserved for classes, exams and outside events.

“It’s very frustrating that there’s only one professional theatre space (on campus) and there’s no guarantee we can use it,” says Ian Kenny, the co-president of SMU’s drama society.

The theatre auditorium is a competitive space to get, Kenny says, adding, “Not only am I competing with other societies, we’re also competing with the university and people outside of the university who tend to get priority because they pay.”

Kirk Williams, the coordinator with Conference Services who books meeting rooms on campus, says every weekend the theatre is booked solid but the drama society has the most time in the space.

SMU’s large conference hall, which is normally used for most outside events, is currently under construction. That means every event that normally happens in the hall is being pushed into the theatre.

With about one to three shows put on every year, the students are having trouble organizing show runs and rehearsals around the busy schedule.

The society used to get the theatre space all to themselves until about six years ago, when classes started using the room Monday through Thursday. Now they need to be aware of who else is using the space, something Kenny says is made difficult when they’re not properly informed.

An example of this confusion happened this fall when Kenny was called in to tear down their set a day early because there was an event scheduled that they didn’t know about.

“(The set) had to be completely de-constructed and put away for an event that didn’t even use the theatre,” he says. “The curtains were closed and they used the other side.”

Janet Gates-Robart, the business development manager for Conference Services, says that while the society can use the space, they can’t assume they have their own “designated private area.”

Williams likens the theatre space to a hotel room, saying the society can’t leave their things behind when they haven’t booked the space.

The university wants the society to sign a letter agreeing that the school has the right to throw out anything left on the stage when the society hasn’t booked the space, says Williams.

He says the letter arose from the frustration of facilities services when large set pieces that take two or three people to move are left onstage. The confusion then comes from having to contact the society and find out who’s responsible for collecting what’s left behind.

All of the executive members from the drama society are happy to sign the letter, says Kenny, adding, “What’s being waved over our heads is denial of privilege to book the room. That’s something I would obviously fight if it ever came up.”

Alternative spaces

The society does have access to the school’s art gallery, but Kenny says that the exhibits have priority. In addition, the gallery requires a $500 damage deposit, and can change the interior walls weekly.

Although the gallery is an option for directors, Delano Ellingwood, the society’s secretary, says the space has more restrictions than the theatre space does and it’s often not feasible.

“We have to move the set pieces every day. The distance is the biggest issue,” he says.

Off-campus theatres have been considered by the society for their second semester show, but Kenny says, “It would be a shame for a theatre society to lose their free space.”

“The nature of the drama society is that we use a theatre space,” Kenny says. “I don’t feel we’re disorganized, but I feel that there’s a lot of miscommunication.”