Both the deans and the provosts of the College of Arts and Sciences have recommended UAA’s theater program for deletion in the process of the University of Alaska Anchorage’s expedited program review. In light of this decision, many theater students participated in student feedback testimonials, sharing their thoughts on the situation and attempting to change the administration’s decision.
“The issue [regarding enrollment in the theater program] is not an interest, it is awareness,” theater major Brighton Coggins said in an email. “I know that if we were given the chance to take [our] energy and redirect it towards rejuvenating enrollment, we would be able not only to make up the deficit in funding, but also to keep talented young theater artists in Alaska rather than seeing them leave the state in a misguided belief that there is no valuable arts education here.”
Currently, UAA and UAF have the only university theater programs offered in Alaska. However, the UAF program only puts on one play a year and focuses more on film and acting. UAA’s program is “beautiful” because it focuses on the technical aspect of theater, Coggins said, and technical theater makes up the majority of the professions in the field. UAA theater students graduate with a good understanding of technical theater and more job security for that reason, he said.
“It’s frustrating to see that most of the cut programs are coming from the college of arts and sciences and that it’s not being equally spread across the board,” theatre major Matthew Meyer.
As well as affecting UAA’s theater community, deleting the program could have a large effect on Alaska’s theater community as a whole. Many UAA alumni and current students in the program work on plays throughout Alaska. Coggins recently designed costumes for Blue Chair Production’s Feb. 2020 “Ugly Lies the Bone,” which was directed by UAA graduate Ryan Buen and stage-managed by Addie George, a current student.
In addition, UAA junior dual English and theater major Kat Banner is stage managing Alaska’s Theatre of Youth’s “Little House on the Prairie” and previously managed “Constance & Sinatra and the Cabinet of Screams” in October and November of last year. A UAA costume professor designed Anchorage Community Theatre’s March 2020 “[email protected],” which UAA social work alumni Devan Hawkins starred in. The theater department at UAA also has a large repertoire of props that the other theaters in Anchorage, for example, the Anchorage Opera, Anchorage Theater of Youth and Blue Chair Productions, utilize, Coggins said.
According to the comments in the expedited program review, theater can seem like a narrow field, but for many UAA theater students, it teaches them valuable skills that are useful in their future careers.
“Theater is an incredibly valuable and transferable degree. It is true that many people who graduate with a theater degree do not work professionally full time in theater, however, they use their theater skills every day. An actor, for example, learns public speaking, textual analysis and how to work long, irregular hours. A sound or lighting electrician learns how to program, repair wiring, operate and troubleshoot complicated technology and distribute power safely,” Coggins said in an email. “I could continue for pages and pages, but the point is there is not a single skill in theater that I could not transfer to another field.”
Theater students have a few decisions to make about how they will complete their education given the circumstances. Students with more than a year left have been recommended by their professors to transfer out of state if they are able to, according to Meyer. For students with a year or so left, graduating is a viable option.
“The community and passion I found in the UAA theater department is something that I know I would not have survived without,” Coggins said.
For more information and updates on the expedited program review process, visit the Expedited Program Review Status article or the AY20 Expedited Academic Program Review article, both on the UAA website.