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Keeping drama afloat at Mills

Last year, students were forced to accept the death of the
Dramatic Arts department. Facing a potentially debilitating budget
crisis, President Holmgren made a controversial decision: as of May
this academic year, the 100 year tradition of theatre at Mills
College will come to an end.

Gemma Whelan, professor and head of the theatre department, is
worried about the future of Mills as a liberal arts school.

“I believe the arts are essential to a full and rounded
education,” Whelan said. “Exposure to theatre helps to nourish
creativity and spontaneity and informs all aspects of life
regardless of career choice… [this cut] will lead to an
impoverishment of the spirit and the community at Mills.”

Without its own drama department, Whelan said, Mills has
compromised its claim to offering a liberal arts education. Is
drama dead at Mills College? Are we to become a liberal arts school
with no theatre?

“Our only hope for being ‘exposed to theater’ lies within the
will of the students to put on productions themselves,” said Erika
Rickard, the Academic Board chair.

“Any student-run drama troupe or organization can fill out a
club registration form and receive funding from ASMC.” She also
noted that the President has stated that she will provide funding
for student-run productions, but “how much is still up in the air,”
Rickard said.

A student-run theater troupe is planned for next year. “We’ll
try to start a club, and see where it goes from there,” said Winnie
Wallace, a Dramatic Arts major. “We’ll do our best without
departmental support of any kind. It will be difficult, I won’t
beat around the bush… the people running [these productions] will
be students who are supposed to be learning how to do it.”

Liza Kuney, director of student activities, said that all venues
on the Mills campus are available for student-run theater
productions. “Lisser Hall, the Student Union, the Music Hall, even
the art gazebo can be reserved as long as students contact me ahead
of time,” she said.

Student organizations have already taken advantage of the
opportunity to put on independent plays. The newly created
Vagina-Friendly Club, which will raise awareness of domestic sexual
abuse and violence against women through tabling, student news, and
films, plans to continue the annual productions of Vagina
Monologues which have been featured at Mills in past years.

Sara Dawn Patt, the club’s president, says they will utilize
both club funding from the ASMC and revenue from club fundraising
for this year’s performance, which is scheduled for February.

“Last year there was no club, and therefore, no budget to work
from [for last years’ Vagina Monologues performance]. We were
supported completely by the ASMC. This is part of the reason we
created a club this year,” said Patt.

Vagina Monologues has been performed annually at Mills College
for the past three years. Its debut in 2001 was directed by Jim
Wright, then the head of the theatre department.

Since then, it has progressed from a departmental foundation to
being completely student run.

“Last year…the department had minimal impact on our show. We
had three people from the drama department involved in the show,
and the rest of us were winging it!” Patt said.

V-day, a non-profit women’s rights organization, allows college
students to produce Vagina Monologues without having to buy the
rights to the play, provided they donate at least 90% of their
proceeds to a non-profit organization that works to prevent
domestic and sexual violence against women. This makes it possible
for student-run organizations with small budgets to produce the

“The V-day College Campaign productions are not supposed to be
professional quality. It’s a learning process, and that’s part of
the fun,” Patt said.

Hope lies in student-run productions, like Vagina Monologues,
that have already made their way into the Mills agenda. By
utilizing club fundraising and available student venues, students
can continue dramatic arts at our liberal arts school, even without
our beloved theatre department.

Erika Rickard is one who will carry on the tradition.

“I personally promise that drama will not be dead once the
department disappears,” she said. “I, as well as several people I
know… are committed to keeping drama alive at Mills, and to keep
the issue of Dramatic Arts present and visible to the