While Friday the 13th has historically been associated with spooky superstition and Freddy Krueger, this year its reputation was dashed with the presence of the Western Washington Play Festival in Carwein Auditorium. Their collection of ten minute plays drew in a wide audience of UWT staff, faculty, and students, but also the wider Tacoma community, reminding the city of its theatrical roots that have dwindled in recent years.
Michael Kula, Assistant Professor of Writing and lead advocate for performing arts at UWT, says that associating the university with theater production helps draw a wider audience than might be available otherwise. He points out that, “name recognition adds legitimacy…it’s that branding that can help.” If theater is the honey bee, then UWT is its flower as we work as a “theater pollinator space” to reinvigorate performing arts in the gritty city.
With the campus growing in leaps and bounds, it has become clear that UWT had a gaping hole in the shape of a performing arts department. Kula says every year, the faculty would agree with the need for music or theater, but without a natural advocate, if a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) department needed a new professor, that position took priority over a performing arts position for a department that didn’t exist.
Tacoma has a long tradition of high quality theater, but Kula points out that most productions were very “safe…traditional” which may not be the most relevant to our diverse student body. His mission is to look at innovative ways to create a space for theater that is more “contemporary… dynamic.”
Many of the arts are regarded as extracurricular, but Harvey Young, professor of theater at Northwestern University asserts that “theater is a business.” Gaining a degree in theater does not only enhance the creativity that can help students excel in more left-brained pursuits, but also can be a “good preparation for other careers.” Often, humanities degrees are listed as less than lucrative, but Young reminds artistic minds that “social importance and salary do not always correlate.”
Treasurer of UWT’s newly established STAG (Student Theater Acting Guild), Jillian Lee says that “there is a clear need to have a space for performing arts in the UWT community…the turnout [for university productions] has been great, and it is unanimous that it is important for the growing campus.” The group has already accumulated 15 members who all support the mission to “produc[e] staged readings and limited-budget full stage productions” and “not only provide educational opportunities for the actors and organizers, but also bring high quality original stage productions to the campus for low or no charge.”
The upcoming spring production from Toy Boat Theater Company will be yet another example of the provocative, modern essence that Kula and STAG hope to see more of in the future. Community support has been overwhelming with the UWT Arts Council even matching funds raised by UWT in order to provide free entry for students and reduced ticket prices for patrons of the wider Tacoma community. Kula says that what we’ve seen makes it clear, “theater is relevant.”