VCU Theater Students Complain About Playhouse Condition 

Speak to dean about the classroom and performance space.

click to enlarge VCU theater students says that Shafer Street Playhouse, a classroom and performance space, is in need of repair.

Scott Elmquist

VCU theater students says that Shafer Street Playhouse, a classroom and performance space, is in need of repair.

Theater students at Virginia Commonwealth University who use the Shafer Street Playhouse have pushed school officials to overhaul the space, which they say is falling apart.

The circa 1890 building is located on VCU’s Monroe Park Campus, next to a central gathering area called the Compass. It provides classroom and rehearsal space, and plays are performed in Richard Newdick Theatre, a small venue located in the playhouse.

Students say that falling plaster, restrooms that remain in disrepair, peeling wood floors that splinter bare feet during rehearsals and exposed wires in Newdick theater, are just some of the problems. A handful of students recently met with John Guthmiller, associate dean of the school of the arts, to address the problem. Nearly 15 students took him on a tour through the playhouse to see the conditions.

The problems are difficult to discern. On a recent walk through the halls of Shafer Street, looking at a rehearsal space, restrooms and Newdick, only minor wear and tear was evident. Jordan Jones, a sophomore class representative for the theater program, says that most of the damages are in the classrooms, which were locked for the winter break. Many of the issues in Newdick may be most obvious to someone skilled in production.

The university says that it's working to get together a list of improvements that need to be made and how much they would cost.

Theater major Isabella Stansbury wrote about the building’s conditions on her Odyssey blog. She says that the playhouse has gone neglected while other facilities have been built or improved on campus.

“VCU opened a $25 million basketball practice facility on Nov. 2. VCU dining services installed two iris scanners for students upon their entrance into Shafer Dining Court,” she wrote. “The basketball team has a fantastic place to practice and prepare for games that bring a great deal of money and notoriety to our school. I'm simply here to state the lack of funding for TheatreVCU.

What Stansbury refers to as iris scanners are two iris cameras that cost a total of $5,000. They take pictures of students' eyes as identification for access to the dining hall.

Stansbury also says that rehearsal space is lacking for theater students. The theater program primarily uses two buildings on campus -- the playhouse and the Singleton Performing Arts Center, which is shared with the music program.

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