California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

    Theatre Arts Spaces Neglected on Campus

    While construction for a new three-story science center is underway, the theatre department faces below-industry lighting for its stages. Towers of props and furniture are in every corner of the building because of shrinking storage space.

    Cal Lutheran’s theatre and dance department is the only department on campus without a dedicated building constructed for its classes and facilities. The next major construction project on campus should be a new space for the theatre department.

    The Blackbox Theater was originally the California Lutheran University basketball gym, and remnants such as the scoreboard and purple-and-gold wooden flooring still remain.

    Professor Michael Arndt has taught at Cal Lutheran for 37 years. He said the Blackbox was also once a community auditorium that hosted the Conejo Valley Symphony, chapel and speakers including Maya Angelou and Ronald Reagan. While the former auditorium housed 1,000 people, the Blackbox currently holds only 100 audience members. This is an upgrade from the previous Little Theater, which could have fit into the Blackbox, but it pales in comparison even to high school stages. Colleges typically have one or more performing arts auditoriums, but Cal Lutheran only has two small spaces that were never intended for theatre performances.

    When the Blackbox finished renovation 10 years ago, the building lacked heating, air conditioning or insulation, and classrooms were separated by temporary dividers with curtain ceilings. The building has upgraded since then, but insufficiencies remain for the Blackbox and the Preus-Brandt Forum.

    The Forum was originally a small music performance space, but Arndt convinced the school to convert it into a larger stage in the mid-‘90s. However, master electrician Liz Murphy says that because this stage was not intended for large performances, it lacks an industry-standard lighting system, which Murphy says is a disadvantage for students seeking a career in technical theatre.

    “We’re so close to L.A., and a lot of people want this education in tech so they can go do stuff in L.A., and I think that’s really hindering…and not really preparing us for the real world,” Murphy said.

    One difficulty in the Forum is that other events such as guest speakers or film showings take priority over dance or theatre performances that need to modify the space, even if the event is only for one evening. For example, Murphy said they are unable to take down wing curtains for the fall production of “Columbinus” because this may interfere with any guest needing these curtains.

    Like any construction venture, raising money for a new performance space is a major roadblock, especially given that acoustics and orchestra pits are not considered when building new classrooms. Theatre major Mahyar Mirzazadeh believes a lack of concern for the department is another hurdle to overcome.

    “[The department] seems like kind of a last priority,” Mirzazadeh said. “Sometimes, it’s like it’s more important to focus on sciences and things that first meet the eye that seem like, ‘Oh, this is necessary. This is what we need.’”

    Theatre arts is just as necessary as any major that some may see as “practical,” such as business or biology. Mirzazadeh believes if people become involved in arts on campus and see acting as a valuable career, then they will realize the importance of supporting young actors at Cal Lutheran.

    “If we were to make the theatre department bigger, that potentially could lead to more students wanting to major here than say UCLA or one of these bigger colleges,” Mirzazadeh said.

    Arndt also emphasized the importance of a theatre presence at Cal Lutheran, calling it the “core of the core.”

    “It involves literature and philosophy and psychology and science and technology and mathematics, social sciences, history,” Arndt said. “It involves all of those things to happen, so I think it’s central to a liberal arts education.”

    Not only does the department have substandard performance spaces, but our limited space has resulted in turning to community spaces to hold shows. This spring’s musical “The Pirate Queen” will be at the Civic Arts Plaza because Cal Lutheran lacks the room for an orchestra, sets or a larger audience. Mirzazadeh said the school’s limited theater space has also restricted the types of shows the department has been able to put on.

    After the new science center’s completion, all construction projects should be tabled until Cal Lutheran’s theatre spaces are attended to. However, until this need is addressed, the department won’t be hindered in continuing to pursue the art of theatre.

    “Do we need better facilities, newer building? Yes, we do,” Arndt said. “But I also feel very proud of what we’ve done and what music has done in terms of not letting our facilities dictate the quality of our work, and so we’ve created a quality product, and we do wonders with the space that we have.”

    Lauren Graf