ESU Theater’s production of “Arsenic & Old Lace” by Joseph Kesselring opened last night. The department has been rehearsing and building this show for about six weeks. It was during this time of massive rehearsals that the news that ASG voted to cut the Performing Arts Board came.
Though the PAB cuts weren’t as drastic as they were intended to be, they did puts us back to where we were at in 2001. This isn’t sustainable as the cost of everything needed to make a production has gone up.
For example, the set of “Arsenic & Old Lace” is massive. It’s a two story box set that was built in six weeks with several late night calls last week in order to get it finished in time for the technical rehearsals. Without the funding of the PAB board we’d never have been able to build a set of this magnitude.
We’d be reduced to high school level sets, which would consist of some walls and a set of stairs leading off stage to represent our ‘second story.’ It would be nothing worth putting on at the university level.
However our set is incredibly beautiful thanks to designer Nancy Pontius, technical director Chris Lohkamp (who was also in the cast), the scene shop hires and the volunteers that came in to work.
Matt Mahr, junior theatre major and student light designer, put in a lot of time not only designing the lights for the show but working as a shop hire and helping inform students about the PAB cuts while advocating against the cuts.
Though we are able to reuse some of the lumber from this set, it’s not as recyclable as you think. Not every set is going to be the exact same size and shape which means we will have to cut down what we have in stock to fit.
Additionally, without funding from the PAB, the costume shop would have to pull all of the costumes from stock instead of constructing two incredible period costumes that reflect the personalities of the two aunts. The problem with this is that sometimes we don’t have the right costumes to fit the period or the actor/actress so alterations have to be made.
We can’t set every show in contemporary times because not only will not fit the story, but even then we wouldn’t have the costumes.
Not every show is going to looking the same or be about the same thing. Every show is going to have a different concept, a different story.
“Arsenic and Old Lace” is a story about family and people. It tells the story of a dramatic critic, Mortimer Brewster, who visits his two sweet, charming and charitable aunts in Brooklyn only to discover that they are killing lonely old men who have no family as a “charity.” Mortimer fights to hide the fact that his aunts are murders and protect them because despite the fact that they are crazy, they aren’t evil or cruel.
Now most people would say “Well they’re criminals, they should all go to jail no matter what” and you’re right, but if your two favorite aunts or grandparents who you love and would do anything for were killing lonely old gentlemen would you turn them in or would you try to find a solution that didn’t result in them ending up in jail?
This performance is not just about showcasing a unique story, however. This show, in the time of budget cuts and disregarding the arts, shows what the theater department is capable of doing despite the stress, anxiety and pressure of the cuts to our love and to our future.
When you see this show, it shows your support for the arts.