Currently, the number of hours that a student must devote to the class DRAM-200: “Experimental Theatre” rests entirely on the prerogative of the director. While this can be beneficial when the director and stage manager understand basic time management and efficiency, nothing can stop a director from arbitrarily deciding that they want all of the cast there for the entire rehearsal process, whether or not they are engaged in the immediate activity of the rehearsal. This happens too often in the Drama Department for the administration to turn a blind eye.
First, let’s take a look at the math. An actor working on a department production receives a half credit (0.5). In a normal six-week course, the maximum amount of work per week for a six-week, half-credit class is 10 hours. If a professor uses all 10 of those hours in combined class (2.5 hours per week) and homework (7.5), you can see that a half-credit, in a normal six-week course, amounts to at most 60 hours in total. The majority of professors do not come close to this maximum, even when they include additional weekly film screenings.
There is no doubt in my mind that Vassar’s Drama Department takes advantage of the Dean of Studies’ lack of supervision in a way that is extremely detrimental to students. For students to attend the full duration of every rehearsal, they will be present for 84 hours, plus 25 mandatory hours of crew assignment. One hundred and nine hours total is twice the amount that an academic class worth the same amount of credits is allowed to assign. Even if a professor of a six-week academic course decided to pile on an especially heavy load, there is no way that they could match that number of hours.
In a current Drama Department production, the director has made the demand that all actors attend every rehearsal on the justification that “this is an academic class.” This justification has no legitimacy. If it stands, it will continue the precedent that directors can decide, at will, to make actors spend their nights in the Center for Drama and Film, whether directors require their presence onstage or not. When directors allow students to do homework, they acknowledge that students can easily spend much of the rehearsal not engaged in the DRAM-200 work. Therefore, why should they have to be in attendance at all?
Second, requiring students to work that many hours is unethical. When a director decides to make a demand such as the one given this semester, they are prioritizing their personal principles of commitment above efficiency, understanding and the well-being of the students. As their principles have no policy justification given Vassar’s credit hours standards, I don’t believe they have the right to demand this of students.
Of course, DRAM-200 is an academic class. Students should understand the consequences of missing class. However, by requiring students to devote 109 hours to an academic class, they are essentially demanding more time spent on one class than any other. This often forces students to choose between their drama production, their other classes and their mental health, the last of which should be put first, but often is not. The Drama Department’s requirements of actors can turn out to be destructive in the lives of their students, more so than other classes, due to the personal pressure piled on by directors.
Though I acknowledge that Department productions are academic classes, the way their demands preclude students from participating in drama and the arts outside of the Department further reflects the attitude of Vassar’s Drama Department, an attitude that places rigidity over the students’ exploration of the arts. It’s quite confusing, really, that professors of the arts would be so unsupportive of their students participating in the thriving student theater community on Vassar’s campus. One way to show that support would be to have even a modicum of understanding for students so devoted to drama that they participate both within and outside of the Department. That support is nowhere to be found.
The rehearsal issues of this semester are symptomatic of the attitude of the Drama Department overall, as well as show business as a whole. With the rise of the #MeToo movement, we’ve seen woman after woman come forward to reveal the male abuse of power in show business. Directors expect actors to conform to whatever standards are set forth under threat of making enemies in the business.
I’m not saying that Vassar’s problem is directly comparable to the abundance of sexual assault cases being brought forward in Hollywood (although there have been multiple SAVP investigations regarding Drama Department professors). However, the incidents occurring in the Vassar Drama Department serve as a microcosm of the unhealthy aspects of show business that should be unacceptable in a place of education.
If the administration cares about the well-being of their students, as they claim to in regard to their tight hold on overload applications and next year’s transition to fewer permitted credits, then they will revise this policy. They will present a genuine framework of expectations for students and professors alike.
If the number of hours an actor can be called is at the discretion of the director, then schedules must reflect the needs of the production. If an inexperienced stage manager is unable to take on the workload of scheduling rehearsals efficiently, the solution should be to give support and training on how to stage manage, not to waste the actors’ time. I have genuine hopes that the Drama Department will address these issues and offer real change, and I urge fellow students to speak with the Department Chair if they have strong feelings regarding this issue.