Squeezed for space
The audience was crushed toward the front, pressing hard against one another and rocking with anticipation. The salty smell of sweat was overwhelming everywhere ? it was at least 80 degrees, and far warmer when pressed against the fans. If you were farther back, it was difficult to see the band members, since there was no proper "stage" to rise them up and make them visible. Sometimes, a little bit of blonde hair flew into focus above the crowd's heads.
Luckily, the Drill Deck was filled with energetic fans and an amazing band last Saturday, or the concert's venue might have made everyone there more uncomfortable. But as imperfect as the space may be, even the Drill Deck will be out of commission next semester when the new Gates building goes up. And when Gates moves in, there will be virtually no place on campus to present shows like last Saturday's concert by Dungen.
Next semester the Old Student Center will be torn down, taking with it one of the last places for smaller-scale concerts to perform on campus, the Drill Deck. Highlander, another venue for smaller concerts on campus, will reopen as a fitness area. The Highlander renovations are likely to include additions that will be a boon to campus life ? possibly a workout area and almost assuredly an area for dance practices ? but it will no longer be an area that can be used for music concerts. According to Director of Housing Services Tim Michael, housing's plans include "upgrades to one of the dining rooms so that dance group practice may occur on a scheduled basis."
The problem is there just isn't enough space on this campus to accommodate everyone's events. The Highlander situation is evidence: to make more space for one activity, the University has to take away space for another.
[BOLD]Cutting edge music, but where to put it?[/BOLD]
The group most directly affected by the space crush is AB Coffeehouse, the perhaps inappropriately named group in charge of bringing less-than-mainstream bands to campus.
AB Coffeehouse is run by a two-man team, Spencer Longo and Daniel Letson, sophomores in art and design, respectively. Even last year, the shows they booked were not usually held in Skibo. And this year, Skibo isn't even an option: A new organization dubbed "AB Skibo" is now exclusively booking shows there.
AB Coffeehouse's old venues of choice were Highlander - which was once a dining facility in Resnik Hall - or the Drill Deck. With renovations to Highlander underway and the Drill Deck being taken offline as early as November, Letson and Longo have few options for where to book their bands.
"We have Rangos, but you can really only do certain shows there," Longo said about next semester's prospects. Both of them believe Rangos is generally too large for the crowds they draw. By e-mail, Longo later added, "You lose a lot of intimacy when there aren't as many people in a cavernous room like that [Rangos]." Wiegand Gymnasium poses the same problem - it is far too big for the sized shows AB Coffeehouse brings, and the space is booked constantly. With Rangos under high demand across the board, the heads of AB Coffeehouse will have to turn to other venues to house the bands they bring to campus.
But there are few choices after Rangos. "The options we're going to have after that is actually Doherty lecture halls," said Longo. Among other problems with the lecture halls ? namely concerns of limited space up front for the band ? is whether an off-campus audience could even find such obscure locales.
Rather than put shows in problematic locations like Doherty lecture halls, Letson and Longo are turning to other alternatives. "We always have the potential to have shows outside; that is something we can do," said Letson. "The only thing is we need money for a stage; it costs about 500 bucks extra."
While AB Coffeehouse is definitely not designed to make a profit, they do need to make money on some shows. Without profit, show scheduling would have to be cut in half to accommodate.
AB Coffeehouse has considered alternate venues like the Adamson Wing lecture hall, but there are concerns about the difficulty of getting equipment into that area, according to Longo. Another possibility is the Alumni Concert Hall within the College of Fine Arts building. However, both have said the initial reactions from those in AB and their advisor was that the space was not likely to work out. "Even our advisor described it as 'kind of fancy,' " Longo said.
The trouble with the Alumni Concert Hall might not be that its "too fancy" for AB, but that it's simply hard to book ? much like Rangos. "It is hard to schedule any additional events in Alumni Concert Hall at the beginning of the school year because the School of Music needs to make sure all student recitals and concerts are booked first," wrote Eric Sloss, Associate Media Director at the College of Fine Arts. Though Sloss believes it is possible to use the space, it's unlikely that anything could be pinned down before November.
The campus stands to miss out if AB Coffeehouse can't find suitable spaces for shows. Letson and Longo are out to expose people to music on the margins. Their job, explained Longo, is to give students exposure to music outside of their usual rotation. "It's not about making a profit," said Longo. "[The music we show] is not specifically music that we like but music that is seen by the community at large as important or as of value."
So where will AB Coffeehouse put these bands? Elizabeth Vaughan, Coordinator of Student Activities and advisor to AB, is optimistic about potential venues. "I'm confident that we can find something and that we will be able to provide shows next semester. If that means that we have to more creative about it [finding venues], well, we'll be more creative about it. I think we'll end up recognizing what other venues are possible [to use]."
[BOLD]State of the stages ? less than perfect[BOLD]
While AB Coffeehouse has been looking towards future show sites, groups like Dancers' Symposium and Scotch 'n' Soda are already planning their shows for this semester, and booking spaces for them. These groups do not face the complications of having their venues taken away from them, but they do have to work around less than ideal areas.
Abigail Rives, a 5th-year-senior in biology and philosophy and a director for Dancers' Symposium, described the problem with current performance spaces. "There is no available dance performance space on campus. Rangos Ballroom is the closest thing to it. [But] since the floor is flat it's not a very good venue for it because once you get to Rangos 2 you can't see the [dance] floor." In Rangos, the area can be partitioned off into three sections - Rangos 1, 2, and 3 - sitting in Rangos 2 is the equivalent of sitting two thirds of the way back from the stage. Rives wrote via e-mail that choreographers are discouraged from using floor work during the dances, as large parts of the audience can't see the dancers when they move close to it.
Likewise, Scotch 'n' Soda has struggled with venue space. For Scotch 'n' Soda, the University Center is their main base for shows. "We generally just stay within the UC," said Courtney Kochuba, a junior in English who is president of the Scotch 'n' Soda Board. "Rangos is our favorite spot just because it's close to a real theater. When we had a show in Peter/Wright/McKenna there were some people we had to turn away, which you never want to do."
There is a positive side to the smaller setting: Connor O'Malley, managing director for the group and a senior in mechanical engineering, said smaller rooms tend to be more intimate. Some spaces have made the group get even more creative than usual, as they did with Scotch on the Rocks last year when they used the Conan room. "It wasn't really a theater," said O'Malley. "That, for instance, was a different style of blocking for the directors. It does give you a really creative outlet to try to attempt new things, at the same time it can be a little limiting."
There are few solutions, though, for getting better venues for Dancers' Symposium and Scotch 'n' Soda shows.
Some might question why student organizations don't utilize the performance space within Purnell. But space in Purnell is at a premium, and majors take priority before student groups can vie for it. "There are constantly things there," said Rives of the Chomsky Theater in Purnell. "We [Carnegie Mellon] have a very elaborate drama program and [the drama majors] have very elaborate needs." Dancers' Symposium did shows in the Kresge theater at one time, but Rives noted that the audience grew too large for the space, and the stage was poorly shaped for a dance performance.
Another option is constructing an entirely new building to house performances. "We wish we had a student theater," said Kochuba, "But there obviously isn't one." O'Malley added that if a student theater was built, it would help Scotch 'n' Soda "get better recognition and more power for securing rehearsal and performance space throughout the season."
Building a new theater space seems unlikely for the foreseeable future. According to Jennifer Church, Associate Dean of Student Affairs, there is no current plan to build a student theater space on campus. For now, student performance groups are left to work with what they have ? meaning Dancers' Symposium and Scotch 'n' Soda shows are staying put in the UC.
[BOLD]Practice makes perfect ? an improving space situation[BOLD]
It's not all gloom for spaces on campus. Though performance space is tight and far less than ideal, the situation with practice space is improving.
One area that's gotten a lot of praise is the Morewood Multipurpose Room - a space created last year that can be used for both theater practices and dance practices. Korchuba noted how it's eased space fears on campus a bit, and Rives also noted that Dancers' Symposium uses it to practice.
Both groups are still struggling with practice rooms, though. Dancers' Symposium, especially, faces trouble as it grows larger. Rives expressed how difficult get enough practice time in before the show, since most rooms for practice can only be used a certain number of hours out of every week. "It's all very limited hours, and not ideal hours.... We have people who rehearse at midnight," said Rives.
Reserving a room can be overly complicated, as well. "You schedule rooms through the UC and the UC scheduling staff may say that you can't have a certain room," said O'Malley. "You have to talk through the UC administration to talk with the heads of the groups you're competing with for space." O'Malley said he understood the need for privacy, but having to speak through the UC in order to negotiate with other groups for the space complicates the process.
If you think the space situation is hard for recognized campus groups, imagine the trouble that independent students have. Latika Kirtane, a senior computer science major, is a member of the band "Awaaz." Kirtane said that last year the group often practiced in one member's apartment and had to drag equipment across campus and risk bothering the group member's roommates. "It would be great if students were allowed to book these rooms independently through an online system or something," Kirtane wrote via e-mail. There are a few options for the general student body to get space, mainly the Morewood Multi-purpose Room and the UC Activities Room. However, these two areas are already under demand from fitness classes and recognized student groups like Dancers' Symposium.
With the reemergence of Highlander this spring, the practice situation will get better - at least for official campus groups. Highlander will open up a new practice space, and give groups one more place where they can go to hone their performances. Rives sees hope in the practice space situation, "If you put up hardwood floors and put up a mirror then we have a place to [practice]. I think that's an easy thing to fix and I think it is slowly but surely being fixed."
[BOLD]Last Words ? before I run out of space[BOLD]
Will the campus space squeeze situation ever be remedied? No plans are currently in the works for a new theater space, according to Church. At this point, it may be up to the students to start an effort to create a student theater, Kochuba suggested. She also mentioned that two years ago students had come together to form SIFTA (Student Intiative For The Arts), a group organized to raise money for a student theater. Though the group has dissolved, it is possible that reviving it - or starting a similar group - could help create the funds and the publicity needed to inspire the construction of a student theater.
Church noted that the University has made strides to help create more performance space, mainly by tiling Wiegand Gymnasium so that it had better acoustics. Church also noted that the University had "added stage and sound system to Skibo [Coffeehouse]."
These things certainly help concert areas, but Weigand is far too large for the types of shows AB Coffeehouse puts on. When asked about Skibo or Wiegand as a potential space for Scotch 'n' Soda, O'Malley wrote via e-mail that "it would be good for a cabaret or something similar, but that doesn't happen that often with our group." He also added that since Skibo is open to any student dropping in for a java, Scotch 'n' Soda probably couldn't charge admission to an event there. As for Wiegand, O'Malley said it was probably [ITAL]too[ITAL] big; and added that to do a formal performance there would require it to be rented out for a technical week, which he felt was unlikely.
Small strides show that there may be hope for an increase of space on campus. For the time being, however, a little creativity and ingenuity are going to have to go a long way for planning where to perform on campus.