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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The obvious solution to limited club space: Reopen McCormack Theater

Snowden+Auditorium+in+Phillis+Wheatley+Hall.+Photo+by+Saichand+Chowdary+%28He%2FHim%29+%2F+Mass+Media+Staff.

Snowden Auditorium in Phillis Wheatley Hall. Photo by Saichand Chowdary (He/Him) / Mass Media Staff.

There is currently a gaping hole on campus—a figurative one. For students in performing arts clubs, you likely know what I’m talking about: There are no adequate practice or performance spaces for groups involved in the arts.

We do have a few facilities in University Hall that are available for certain productions. The University Hall Theatre, Recital Hall and dance studios function as incredible assets to this university, but they’re only available for students who are in the Performing Arts Department. 

After speaking with William Doncaster, the department’s outreach coordinator, the reasoning behind this decision seems to be valid—the department doesn’t have the time or available staff to fit outside groups into the theaters. Additionally, the spaces are in near constant use, preparing for upcoming performances and teaching students about set design, lighting, costuming and sound. Unfortunately, when I reached out to the department to learn why dance clubs are unable to use the studios, I never heard back.

So, where does this leave outside groups—dance, cultural, musical clubs and more—who need a space to practice and perform? The options are limited, and that’s putting it nicely. I stumbled upon this issue when my dance team, the UMass Boston Dance Company, had difficulties finding a venue to host their Spring Showcase. After communicating with several performing arts groups with near identical and unsatisfactory experiences, I realized that this was not an isolated issue—this is a campus-wide issue.

Currently, the only available space on campus that can seat a crowd and has a stage for performances is Snowden Auditorium. Snowden is insufficient for a couple reasons. The first is that the stage, and the wings next to it, are very small.​​ There is not enough room for dance teams to run group pieces full out and give them the physicality they deserve. The second is that the stage gives dancers splinters.

Yes, splinters.

Our team found this out last semester during our Fall Showcase, and the dancers from Hoy! Pinoy!—the school’s Filipino club—reported having the same experience during their cultural show in April. The floor of the stage is worn, unfinished wood, and since dancers are often required to go barefoot, splinters are inevitable. This makes Snowden inadequate for not only functional reasons, but safety ones. That’s an immediate concern.

Furthermore, this makes practice spaces limited. Dance groups cannot and should not be battling constant splinters, which means Snowden is not viable for practices or rehearsals. This leaves the option of booking different rooms on campus in order to learn and run pieces, but these rooms have problems of their own.

Currently the UMass Boston Dance Company practices in a small, carpeted room in the Campus Center that is not fit for many elements of dance—floor work, turning and running pieces full out. On top of this, several clubs have reported issues with being double-booked and forced to leave rooms.

UMBeats, the school’s acapella group, is frustrated with the university’s inefficient room booking system. Their club is often double-booked with others, including my dance team and professional photographers, which means they have to either share the space or get kicked out. According to their secretary, Truman Klein, this disorganization has lost them valuable practice time. Hoy! Pinoy! and the WHISPER Kpop Dance Crew said they’ve had similar booking issues, while UMBeats and Hoy! Pinoy! reported a lack of assistance from university staff regarding the ongoing problem.

The UMass Boston Breakers, a dance club that celebrates the art, history and culture of breaking—known as breakdancing by the mainstream—has also faced issues with practice space. The University Hall Auditorium is currently their best option for practices, as it’s private and has a smooth wooden floor fit for breaking. However, the space is not meant for dancing; it’s meant for lectures and speakers.

There are necessary metal lids on the floor that cover electrical outlets, and while the Breakers do their best to avoid them, one of their dancers has cut their hand on one. This is unacceptable. Students should not be driven to use spaces where there is a possibility for injury: splinters or cuts. We are willing to do this because we love what we do and we’d rather risk it than have nothing at all, but we should not have to risk it.

Additionally, students should not have to sacrifice when it comes to celebrating and honoring their culture, yet that’s exactly what cultural clubs like Hoy! Pinoy! have had to do. According to Hoy! Pinoy!’s Performance Coordinator Fasha Banson, the club hosted an intercollegiate cultural festival called “Kamayan” in the Campus Center Ballrooms this year. While these large rooms meet the bare minimum requirement for an event—a wide open space—they are not aesthetically fit for important performances that deserve a proper venue. The club even received complaints from visiting schools about the less than satisfactory space. 

“If UMass [Boston] is going to be a school that promotes diversity […] they should allow us to have the resources to make these performances the quality that they should be,” said Banson. Furthermore, Hoy! Pinoy! booked the ballrooms until 8 p.m. for Kamayan, but were cast in darkness when the lights were shut off at 7:30 p.m. due to an internal miscommunication within the event staff.

“I just think it’s disrespectful,” said Banson. “All of the [cultural shows] that I’ve been to, including ours, are such a good representation of our cultures. It would be nice to have a smoother way of making these shows happen.”

It’s truly a shame that every single club I’ve talked to has had some kind of space-related issue to report—especially when an unused theater is sitting dormant in McCormack Hall. The theater I’m referring to is McCormack Theatre, where the Performing Arts Department used to hold its productions before University Hall opened in 2016. From what I’ve heard, the space houses around 200 seats and the stage has a smooth, double-sprung floor which is perfect for dancing. This space could be an incredible solution to many of the problems addressed above, not to mention an opportunity for a plethora of new uses and endeavors. So, UMass Boston, it’s time to dust off 200 seats and get this theater up and running again.

As of right now, there is a space request submitted for McCormack Theater by Mike Metzger, the vice chancellor of student affairs, which is great news. This means the space will be looked at and analyzed by the SPACE Committee, a group of people from several different departments that decide whether a space is worth being revitalized. Well, SPACE Committee, from a student’s perspective who has talked face-to-face with this space’s target audience, I can assure you that McCormack Theatre is more than worth it.

Student groups, present and future, would be eternally grateful if you approved this request, and there are a few sentiments we want you to know before making your decision. The first is that we don’t need much. If the McCormack Theater was cleaned and opened tomorrow, it would likely still be more sufficient than the options we have right now. I’ve heard the stage is still in good shape, and for dancers that is half the battle. 

This brings me to my second point—what we do need can be extremely simple. Specifically, the technology. It’s not in our best interest to have high-tech lighting and sound systems that are expensive, difficult to understand or require other staff to use. In fact, we’d rather have a space that is simple than lose out on it entirely because of the cost of making it more modern or high-tech.

Finally, we are willing to work. I don’t know what the exact state of McCormack Theater is right now, but if it needs to be swept, cleaned, cleared out or organized, I know of an entire dance team that is willing to help. Even if the space could be opened as a practice room before it could be opened for performances—especially due to its lack of handicap accessibility—we’d be more than willing to get started.

While my research into this issue started from a personal endeavor, it quickly morphed into a desire to represent the voice of every student who has struggled to fully cherish their passions at this university. And still, the possibilities of the McCormack Theater stretch far beyond dance and music groups. The space could be used for any number of events—guest speakers, lectures, poetry slams, amateur theater productions, guest theater productions, school events, club karaoke and more.

The McCormack Theater used to be a venue for theater and dance, for music and art. Believe it or not, it is now the venue of the construction crew’s morning meetings. I think it’s time we honor the history of the space—and the value of our student groups—and give this theater’s legacy a purpose it can be proud of.

About the Contributor
Skylar Bowman, Managing Editor