As a requirement for the course, students are expected to work, without pay, in the Kirby Theater shop for 26 hours or join a production crew for the week of tech rehearsal and performances (about four hours a night for seven days). This requirement is not listed in the course catalog, so students are not aware of it before they receive the syllabus on the first day of classes. In addition, all three of the core classes in the department-Materials, Language and Movement (TH&DA 11) and Action and Character (TH&DA 13)-have this requirement.
Before I go on, I’d just like to say that I have no problem with working in the shop. It is hard work, but there is a great sense of accomplishment that comes with seeing the product of your labor onstage. Working in the shop is also a great way of familiarizing yourself with the shop staff, who are excellent resources for any questions that a student new to the department might have about theater, both at Amherst and in the outside world. Most people just think of theater as the finished products they see on stage, whereas working in the shop shows you the many other aspects that go into putting on a successful production.
Having said that, I think that 26 hours is, simply, a lot of time. Early on the in the semester, I was in a play and most of my classmates from Materials were on the production crew. In need of money, I had to add on extra hours at my job in Valentine to make up for the time that I missed during the play. By the time I was able to join the crew for a show, I was informed that there was no room for me. So I then had to permanently give up a shift at work, because it conflicted with the time slot I had to spend in the shop. Instead of just losing a couple of days at work, I had to take a permanent pay cut. My paycheck is considerably smaller for the rest of the year.
I feel that financial aid students who have work study jobs should be compensated for the hours they are missing due to working in the shop or due to being part of the crew for a show. For many students, their livelihood here at the College depends on the money they are able to make in their jobs. Such a large time commitment can turn interested students away from theater classes simply because they can’t afford to give up that much time and not be paid, as well as possibly discouraging an otherwise ambivalent student from exploring all that the department’s classes may have to offer.
At a college with such a large endowment, I find it a little surprising that the financial needs of students are overlooked in this way. Financial need shouldn’t prevent students from exploring their academic interests.