Buffalo Theater Ensemble fights for residency

Students and faculty defend benefits to education

Kelly Wynne, News Editor

College of DuPage students and staff, along with members of the Buffalo Theater Ensemble (BTE) have been fighting to get the independent theater group a spot on the MAC stage again. The theater group, once COD’s own resident theater company, has had trouble staying afloat in its four years off-campus. BTE has been credited by both students and employers as a valuable hands-on theater experience and a

The group was originally cut due to lack of funding, but now that the college is in better financial standing, supporters have decided now is the time to push for residency.

BTE is known around campus for providing theater students with their first professional theater experiences, whether it be acting or behind the scenes work. Students and recruiters have expressed the positive effects of listing BTE on a resume, detailing that almost all undergrads who have been involved with BTE have a priority complex to other possibly hires.

When housed at the MAC stage, the ensemble produced four to five plays per year, each involving at least a dozen student members. When the company was cut from the MAC stage, members and supporters immediately began searching for ways to help the company return to COD.

At the special board meeting on Sept. 28, Dean of Liberal Arts, Daniel Lloyd, Director of Theater, Connie Canaday Howard and Director of the MAC, Diana Martinez presented the pros and cons of bringing the group back to residency on campus. This meeting provided BTE members and supporters with their first public statement, as they have declined to comment to the Courier thus far.

The three covered student involvement, budget and the MAC’s influence on the company. The biggest argument for the return was the opportunities provided to students.

Martinez agrees with the student involvement aspect but feels the college must seriously consider the larger picture.

“It seems to me the students made a very compelling case that BTE provided a tremendous opportunity for arts education, outreach, culture and engagement,” said Martinez in an email. “All of these things are in the mission of the college. That being said, there are several college priorities at this time and the board needs to evaluate if this is an investment they can make at this time.  In my personal opinion, I think the goodwill and community connection that the entire arts program provides has proven to be a great investment and has a valuable return on investment.”

While Martinez admires the value of BTE on campus, Lloyd’s budget presentation was anything but encouraging. Lloyd explained that in the ensemble’s last year on campus, the number of shows was cut from 64 performances to 36. Funding for the group comes primarily from the MAC as well as ticket sales. In the past the group has had a hard time breaking even on ticket sales. Lloyd  argued that around $80,000 was lost during the 2014-2015 season and that show attendance dropped 24 percent from 2008-2013.

Trustee Charles Bernstein questioned the attitude of Lloyd’s presentation, commenting on the positive numbers being displayed. “How do you account for a revenue of $2,000 per performance when the number of performances were admittedly fewer?” Lloyd had little response other than reiterating the negative numbers but assured Bernstein that if BTE does return to campus, he will be able to work efficiently with those who support the comeback.

Board Chairwoman Kathy Hamilton expressed her desire to make an informed decision on the topic. “We would need to understand the accounting to make a responsible decision.”

Martinez and colleges have examined the budget, looking for efficiencies to make funding the group more affordable, but Martinez feels that an increase in marketing may help the school to break even with ticket sales.

“We have reviewed the numbers several times looking for ways to streamline,” said Martinez in an email. “It is a pretty conservative budget. The marketing has previously been very minimal, in order to attain the 70% increase in sales needed to meet the goals, marketing needs to be increased.”

The group is pushing to be back in residence in the fall of 2016. Until the final board decision, students and faculty plan on continuing their campaign. Martinez expressed her support for the presentation and dedication of all involved. 

“I am so proud of the students for advocating for the arts and their passion for expression,” said Martinez in an email. “You have inspired all of us to try and find a way to increase student engagement with the arts. I hope we can create an opportunity that provides for students to have as many engagement opportunities to connect with the arts as possible.”