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Is Theatre Dead?

Comm 260: Journalism
Kathleen McKendry
Students identify a substantive issue, develop a hypothesis, research its viability, and then carry out an extensive investigation, using both human and documentary sources to produce a report. The main criteria are:
• a serious subject
• extensive research into a wide range of appropriate sources
• difficulty in uncovering the truth
• a balanced mix of information, narrative and analysis
• clearly articulated findings drawn from the research (whether or not they sustain the initial hypothesis)

Stories are constructed in a format that borrows from the conventions of both hard news (detailed information) and feature writing (vivid description and compelling narrative), beginning with either a summary lead based upon the findings or an anecdotal lead that carries the reader to the subject of the piece. Students follow Associated Press style and are asked to produce error-free copy for publication in campus or other newspapers.

BOSTON (April 29) - Setting up 200 chairs, the cast of "And Then There Were None" hopes they will be filled for all three of their performances.

Anticipation rises as the clock ticks on, every minute getting closer and closer to "lights-up" at 7:30. The actors sit and joke around in their costumes, occasionally glancing at the clock and then at the door to see if anyone has lined up to see the show.

A few people wait outside for the play to begin—mostly parents, grandparents, and friends of students in the play.

After waiting an additional 15 minutes in hopes that more audience members would arrive, the producers finally open the doors. People take their seats and await the performance.

The lights come up and actors take the stage, finding only 20 people in the chairs they had set up earlier.

Twenty seats out of 200 is a low turn out for a play, but not unusual for the Simmons College Theatrical Society, say the producers. They are accustomed to a 10 percent (or less) turn-out rate at their shows.

The Simmons College Theatrical Society has been around for five years, founded by Alyson Heimer and Nichole Duggan, members of the class of 2007. Since its beginning, it has been completely run and organized by students who have dedicated considerable time to making sure that there is a performance every semester, but they usually have almost no one to perform for.

The low turn-out rate may be due to the fact that many people are unaware that Simmons College even has a theatrical group on campus, according to freshman Polyxeni Gudis.

"When I was applying here, I was under the impression that Simmons didn't have a theater program. When I came to visit the school last summer, my tour guide had no idea if the school had one when I asked her," says Gudis.

Some students say they have not noticed any advertising for the performances on campus, but organizers insist that promotional materials have been posted. According to current student director and Theatrical Society treasurer Megan McCaughey, fliers are hung up and campus announcements are submitted when show dates are near, but many students say they have not seen them.

"If I wasn't part of the theatrical society, I probably wouldn't be aware of any upcoming shows," says sophomore Isis Traumann-Davis. "I don't know if I've ever noticed any fliers around campus except for the ones I've posted myself." In addition to not noticing fliers around campus, it seems that many Simmons students do not check their daily student-digest e-mails either.

"I glance through them every so often," says freshman Cate Mazzola. "But checking those things aren't part of my daily routine. I usually just delete them." When asked if Simmons gives the Theatrical Society a hard time about their group, McCaughey was quick to deny that rumor.

"That isn't really true," says McCaughey. "We have a fund like any other club, and they give us tools to promote our shows. We can use the copy center, and it is quite easy to post an announcement on the Web site."

So why are students unaware that the school has plays that are performed every semester?

Some students suggest that maybe they do not know there is a theatrical group on campus because Simmons is a sports school and the school's sporting events overshadow programs like those of the Theatrical Society.

However, McCaughey does not find a rival in the Simmons sports teams. "To my knowledge, sports events don't have a big audience either," she says. "There is just a lack of interest on campus. We are all under a certain amount of stress. That and time is another factor that may attribute to the lack of attendance."

But if low attendance is due to a lack of interest, why haven't people noticed the fliers hanging up?

Sara Panaccio, a junior English and Theater Arts double major at Roger Williams University, suggests that students may be unaware because the school is not doing enough to help out.

"I know that Roger Williams may have more of an advantage than Simmons since we actually have a major dedicated to the performance arts, but on our campus, it is virtually impossible to miss the fliers and banners that promote our performances. Our shows are almost always sold out," says Pannacio. "And I go to a huge sports school."

At Roger Williams, students can rely on the school to spread the word about the promotions of the theatrical performances. The only thing students have to do is design the flier itself. They can then bring their designs to the student activities center, fill out a request, and then everything is out of their hands.

Once the student activities center has the request, it makes hundreds of fliers, a few movie-sized posters, and a giant banner, which are hung in all the school's academic buildings, its dormitory common rooms, and the dining hall.

On top of this, some students take fliers into the town of Bristol, Rhode Island, and post them in store windows. And the theatre department dips into its funds to put an advertisement in the town's newspaper.

"I feel like that helps a lot," says Lucine Kotzien, a freshman at Roger Williams University. "We usually have a lot of people in the audience that have no connection to any of the actors in the play at all."

If Simmons did that, a burden would be lifted off the Theatrical Society. Ever since the fire in Alumnae Hall that resulted in the destruction of its home stage, the Theatrical Society has had many stresses with looking for rehearsal and performance spaces, as well as looking for places to store costumes and props, say society members.

"I feel like if we had a home stage to rehearse and perform on, then we would be able to focus more on promoting our shows," says freshman Evie Ladd. "Right now it seems like we're juggling everything. Even if it is a student run club, a little more support from the community would be nice — after all, we're only students."

Under these circumstances, it is difficult to pin down precisely why audience turn-out is so low at Simmons, but the outlook for the future does not appear to be good.

"I don't know. I've never really been into seeing plays. I don't think I know many people, if any at all, that like to go to plays," says junior Jennifer Kowaloff. "I think movies are much more exciting."