JOEY LONG, Contributor
Did you see “The Sugar Wife” this past week? Of course you didn’t. And really, why would you? What was it about the frowning, dull-looking woman on a sepia poster that attracted you? What about the three-hour long, overly didactic plot about Quakers (in turn of the century rural Ireland) did the Theatre Department expect college students to identify with? The box office made a record low $26 selling tickets this past Friday night (typically a popular evening), while it cost the school $35 per person to pay four to five ushers to work the show.
But here’s the worst part: the students in “The Sugar Wife” acted the sh*t out of it. They worked their butts off, rehearsing for months to learn new accents and memorize three hours worth of dialogue and blocking. The set took several months and presumably a good deal of money to build, the costumes took a lot of delicate handling to prepare, and it all looked gorgeous on stage when the final product was complete. But nobody showed up to see it, because nobody gave a sh*t, because they had no reason to. All that work for nothing. The target demographic for that play, if, by god, there is one, is nowhere near college students. And if you’re going to argue that elderly townees are a majority of the average audience, maybe you’re right. But that’s not how things should be at a college theater, especially at a school as liberal artsy as Beloit.
Students have the option of formally proposing plays that they want to see done at Beloit. This works with the approximate efficiency of writing a letter to Martin Scorsese and telling him what movie he should direct next. In my four years here, not a single student’s proposal has been accepted. Speaking to other students, I’ve learned that a good deal of people want to see Shakespeare. The department is allegedly afraid, however, that “students won’t want to pay $4 to go see Shakespeare.” Fair enough. I mean, he is widely considered to be the best playwright of all time, but his stuff is a bit outdated. Let’s give them something topical, radical, modern, controversial and relevant. “The Sugar Wife!” It’ll be a sell-out, box office smashing hit.
People, I’ve learned, also want to see more musicals. I’m not crazy about musicals myself, but I know that when I got here, I was told that Beloit did a musical every year. Then it changed to every other year. In my four years, they’ve done one musical; “Grease.” Nobody wanted “Grease.” The director didn’t want “Grease.” The actors didn’t want “Grease.” John Travolta didn’t want “Grease.” However, Chuck Drury, the megalomaniac, I mean, Technical Director of the department, wanted “Grease.” Since nobody on the teaching staff gets along with Chuck Drury, and none of the students like Chuck Drury, and nobody wanted to do “Grease,” we ended up doing “Grease.” I wonder if other departments work with this advanced level of logic.
Listen: I was in “Grease.” It was a disaster in Technicolor. My own mother hated it. It melted the remaining ice caps in the North/South Pole, killing all of the penguins and polar bears.
The mentality of the department isn’t about showcasing the students, or helping the students grow and prepare to take on the world with their useless major. The students don’t have a voice. They don’t even have faces! The posters for Beloit plays are always random stock-photos that often have little to do with the play and do nothing whatsoever to create hype for opening night. Seriously, every time I saw the poster for “The Sugar Wife” I fell asleep. Even if I was walking across campus with my backpack and everything, I would take one glance at it and drop like a stone, right there on the spot.
Several students, myself among them, recently founded The Beloit Independent Theatre Experience (BITE) in order to give students a voice, and a chance to perform or direct a production on campus. The props, costumes and stage spaces belonging to the department are nearly impossible to gain permission to use. Convoluted rules, excuses and paperwork are thrown at any student trying to use department resources. Don’t believe me? Try it yourself. I dare you.
My only question as I leave this school is “why?” Why lay down obstacles instead of support? I thought I didn’t care anymore, but sitting in the Neese on Saturday night, watching my peers give it everything they had to an audience of empty seats, I got pissed. It was bullsh*t. If it weren’t for students, there wouldn’t be a Neese theater, or professors or a department at all. From several conversations with recent alumni, things have been this way for a long time. It’s sad, but hopefully things turn around some time soon. All we want is a voice, dude. Let us vote on what plays are preformed. Let us use the space. Let us get involved. Let us help reach out to other students, because if attendance means anything, the department is out of touch with what college students care about.