Changing fields: Performing arts change with the flood, times

BY MEGAN DIAL | MAY 11, 2009 7:30 AM

The UI performing-arts department is changing to maintain “certain artistic standards” while keeping up with the rapidly altering technological world and the slumping economy, officials said.

“Technology, recording, online resources — it’s all changing. That’s where the music business is,” said David Nelson, the interim director of the School of Music. “The big schools of music, like Iowa, always maintain some artistic standards.”

Incoming students are more savvy about the contemporary world, he said, helping the UI become more up-to-date.

Last year’s flood created the necessary opportunity.

“We have to build an entire new facility,” Nelson said. “We have the opportunity in the next few years to build the most up-to-date facility and figure out how to be as contemporary as possible.”

After the flood, he said, the department is planning for the next 30 years with new facilities and new ideas.

“It’s a great opportunity brought on by a great disaster,” he said. “It’s going to be a big deal.”

Director of the Division of Performing Arts Alan MacVey said the flood did not affect the theater department as strongly as others, but it is still making changes in response to the modern world.

“We are — I am at least — trying to get us in touch with more contemporary trends in the theater,” MacVey said.

He said department officials are looking at two different strategies — experiments with technology and creating work related to smaller communities.

MacVey said he is gradually experimenting with cell phones, the Internet, and other newer technological devices as they relate to live performances in plays.

“It’s not so slow, just a little bit at a time, like all experiments,” he said.

MacVey also said some UI alumni are planning to stay in the Iowa City area to create available theater work for students in the surrounding communities.

“We’re always looking for what’s the cutting edge,” he said. “We are a place that prides itself in doing new plays, but just sort of standard new plays isn’t enough.”

UI senior Ben Bentler said he thinks the theater department has been hit the hardest by the economy.

“The fact of the matter is it is $8 to see a movie and at least $20 to see a show,” the vocal performance major said. “Professional production is double that.”

As a result of the increasing ticket prices and poor economy, he said, audiences have decreased and the theater business is struggling to stay alive.

But MacVey said he is confident the economic slump will go away in a few years.

“Everything will come back in probably two or three years, and in a certain way, you weed out the ones that are not strong enough, and you bring in new ones,” he said. “There’s always a new crop of students.”

Bentler said students need to be much more contemporary and well-rounded to be successful in the job world, and he doesn’t think the UI is offering enough contemporary training.

“They train them to be classical artists and work in classical plays; however, I think the problem with that is they’re ignoring what the market is telling them,” he said. “In the theater world … they need to know how to dance and sing. You better damn well know your stuff.”

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