by Max Brantley
I continue to receive concerned letters from friends of the Arkansas Tech University theater program about the future of the program. I hope to have something more definitive from the school administration later today.
The theater workshop was closed Sept. 9 because of fire safety concerns cited in a fire department inspection, this university news release notes. While the news release addressed safety concerns for students, it didn't address continuation of the theater program. It's a bit like fielding a football team without a field. Writes an alumnus:
There's no doubt or argument about the concerns listed. By law public buildings have to abide by the Fire Code, though I must admit some of the violations cited in this case seem rather silly. What came to pass was that the Tech Administration shut the Theatre Workshop down, being so bold as to do so in the middle of a class (I suggest asking one Mr. Moseley why he made that particular choice). The Workshop is now locked and no students or faculty are allowed inside. Conspicuously, the Museum located on the other side of the building, separated from the Workshop by a wall that does not extend to the height of the ceiling, remains open despite its adjacency to this now-deemed-dangerous space, this obviously unsafe hazard to the students' lives.
You may notice the date on the above article is the 15th of September. Three weeks have passed by and nothing has been done to rectify the problem. Students who paid tuition to practice the art of theatre have no resources or suitable spaces with which to do so and the Administration has no plan to provide them with any. When the Theatre Program asked the Administration if it may reenter the Workshop to salvage costume pieces, scenery, and props for its upcoming production of Candide (slated to be performed in Witherspoon Auditorium), the Administration refused, citing that all of these resources must be reacquired. Decades of accumulated resources are off-limits. Why?
Good questions. We'll ask. You can't discuss theater at Arkansas Tech without remembering the infamous fuss in 2008 when Tech President Robert Brown tried to ban production of Sondheim's "Assassins" because a blank pistol was fired in the play. The ACLU intervened and the story drew international attention.
Theater program supporters fear for the future because of the latest development.