New drama director generates controversy
By Joanna Stone
In an effort to merge the existing theater arts and music programs into an overall performing arts program, the drama program has initiated many changes in the past year.
One such change was the hiring of Alan Brody as the first Director of Theater Arts. Dean of the School of Humanitites and Social Sciences Ann F. Friedlaender PhD '64 was responsible for creating this head position, doing away with what she called "the system of anarchy" that had existed.
Alan Brody's presence on campus has created much controversy among students and within Dramashop. The adverse reaction of some students was demonstrated by Brody's high finish in the Big Screw contest last week. However, even those most vocal against Brody's initiatives agreed that the troubles that occurred this year were due to a series of misunderstandings and a lack of communication, neither of which was necessarily the fault of Brody.
"It's not Alan's fault," said Matt McCarty '89, vice-president of Dramashop. According to McCarty, Brody was brought in with the understanding that he was to make major changes in the drama program. Dramashop, however, was led to believe that Brody would watch over Dramashop and help out when needed, but otherwise not interfere. "What the two groups were told was mutually exclusive." says McCarty.
"We think that our problems with Alan have been resolved," said Michael Malak '89, secretary of Dramashop. The members of Dramashop felt that their main problem now lies with the integration of Dramashop into the curriculum. McCarty said that many fear the reduction of their program to "Dramashop 101". Derek Clark, president of Dramashop, expressed the need for a non-academic theatrical element at MIT. "I, myself, came to MIT with theater as only a hobby. I don't think I would have entered Dramashop if it was part of a full-fledged theater major or minor program," said Clark. He felt that the one-act plays were a good way for a student to become involved in the theater without making a full-time commitment and expressed concern at the demise of these plays.
According to Brody, the one-act program has not been done away with but instead has been restructured. Rather than committing themselves to a full production of one-act plays, the Theater Arts Program has created a workshop proposal program. This program allows students who are interested in performing a theatrical project of any sort -- "including one-act plays" -- to obtain a faculty sponsor and propose their project to the Theater Arts program for funding. Brody hoped that this program would allow for more student activity and student generated productions. "Ideally, we will have productions happening all over campus at the same time," he said.
Brody acknowledged that the effort to further curricularize the drama program, a main reason for his hiring, had created much controversy. "I was brought in with the sense that MIT wanted to strengthen the curricular aspect of the arts and create a program that would not be a preprofessional program, but one which would allow people who wanted to study seriously some practical aspect of the program a curricular outlet to do so."
Brody said one of his main objectives was "to facilitate the best and most exciting theatre that students want and to open them up to all kinds of ways to do it." According to Brody, "In the past theater at MIT has been riddled with politics and problems involving space and power. Many of these problems got in the way of the energy of making theater. My major focus is to get as much theater made as possible and to have it made by and for the students."
Although Dramashop members have the same basic objective as Brody, they do not agree with all of his methods or initiatives. One thing that created some controversy was the IAP performance of Aha. Originally auditions were held for Skin of Our Teeth by Thornton Wilder. But due to low turnout, an alternative improvisational production called Aha was created. "Aha was completely unlike anything Dramashop had ever done before. Many of us do not believe it was theater," said Clark. Jonathan Rockman, publicity director of Dramashop, added that "some of us were embarassed."
Brody, however, was thrilled with the Aha outcome. "The kind of courage and commitment that the company brought to the production was extraordinary. I was a little disappointed that the students themselves didn't honor the work as much as I did."
Most of the Theater Arts Program's changes involved the curriculum. However the change that lead to an adverse reaction from Dramashop students was the replacement of Bob Scanlan by Bill Fregosi as interim acting director of Dramashop. Although Fregosi had been involved in Dramashop in the past and would bring a certain continuity to the program, Scanlan was highly regarded by the students and those that have worked with him do not want to lose him.