With warm weather and sunlit air, the afternoon of October 6th seemed like a normally pleasant one. But there was a darkness that was cast over a part of the staff and students of this school when the board of trustees decided to get rid of the theatre major here at St. Ambrose University.
About three weeks after this school year began, the current theatre majors received an email from the school notifying them that the major was currently under review to be cut. This was upsetting to the entire department but, unfortunately, they were not surprised by the announcement. Morgan Reilly, a current theatre major heavily involved in the backstage aspects of the department, shared her reaction to the news.
“It was disbelief. I wasn’t immediately upset, but it was like I wasn’t happy. I was just, it was like, is this really happening right now? I knew it was going to be coming, but I was just like, oh boy, it was just—I don’t know. It was really like I had a reaction of nothing, but that’s not the good way [of putting it],” said Reilly.
The board of trustees asked for the input of those with declared theatre majors before making a final decision. Not surprisingly, the students were unsettled by the news that their major may be taken away for future students. Reilly and others took their pain and turned it into determination to save the theatre major.
A petition was started by Erika Seabloom, a current SAU senior who is studying speech and theater for secondary education. Seabloom started the petition on Change.org, and the outreach that it made was overwhelming,
“[I] shared it on Facebook and urged my fellow theater people to share it as well and get as many people as possible with emphasis on saying it was from the students. We got over twenty-five hundred signatures on that . . . A whole bunch of testimony about why the theater program is so important to us and why it matters to other people,” Seablom shared.
Kyle DeFauw is a returning SAU student who declared his theatre major earlier this year. DeFauw shared about how important St. Ambrose theatre truly is to our students.
“My personal story, I have struggled with school for a long time, almost a decade, and I came back to St. Ambrose because I knew what it had to offer for me and I knew who was here and knew what I would get,” DeFauw started.
“There are so many other people who are gonna have that type of story, too—that know about St. Ambrose, and about Cory, and Dan and Kris and Aaron and what they have to offer here. And then stripping that away from them prevents those people like me from wanting to pursue what ultimately drives them,” said DeFauw.
The theatre department here at SAU has made a big impact on not only the school but in the Quad City area. The department has produced a plethora of successful professionals out in the entertainment industry. Alumni of ‘09, Seth Kaltwasser is proof of this.
“I am currently the Director of Development for St. Croix Festival Theatre, a nonprofit professional theatre company in Wisconsin. I also do freelance theatre work — directing, writing, and acting — primarily in Minneapolis and the greater Twin Cities area. The SAU Theatre faculty taught me just about everything I know…,” Kaltwasser said.
Kaltwasser continues by sharing insight on what the SAU theatre department does for its students. He explains that the SAU Theatre Department taught him so many things that help him on and off the stage. Through the department, he learned skills that helped to improve himself and his communication skills with others. Kaltwasser was taught irreplaceable lessons of life.
“They [SAU Theatre Department] taught me to push my boundaries and navigate new, uncomfortable tasks without overextending myself…They taught me how to laugh and find humor even in the midst of stress and sadness… Future generations of Ambrose students need to have these same opportunities,” said Kaltwasser.
Against the opinions of current students and faculty, alumni of SAU and the overwhelming public support backing the department, the board of trustees decided to cut the theatre major. This decision truly hurt all those who love theatre here at St. Ambrose. K Hampton is currently a theatre and marking major here at SAU. Hampton was heartbroken when she heard the news.
“To hear that our success doesn’t matter to that school, in general, was really hard to hear because it matters to us and it just, it definitely felt like we were not wanted and it definitely feels like that now that the program has been cut . . . We got over 2,000 signatures, we proved that the St. Ambrose Theater Department matters and the school didn’t listen,” Hampton stated.
Hampton continued on saying that now others won’t be able to see the beauty of the SAU Theatre Department.
Professor Corinne Jonshon, formerly the chair of the theatre department, is currently a full-time professor in the theatre department and has taught here at St. Ambrose University for 32 years. Johnson shared her feelings on this decision.
“[I felt] betrayed, marginalized, and it was the biggest mistake that I have seen St. Ambrose make in my 32 years,” Johnson said.
Johnson and the other faculty of the theatre department are not exactly sure what to do next, but they will not be giving up. Johnson said that she doesn’t have the answers yet, but she will do everything in her power to keep opportunities alive for students.
The theatre major being cut here at St. Ambrose brings up a larger issue shared by some students: the arts are not valued in the education system. Luke Petterson is a senior theatre major and current director of the Theatre Appreciation Club (TAC) here at St. Ambrose University. Petterson shared his insight on this.
“Art, in general, explores the human condition and it makes us more empathetic human beings. It makes us more aware of other people’s cultures and their life experiences. And so not saying that science, math, that those areas of study are not important because they absolutely are. And there is a place for everyone at the table. The problem is that often the arts are not at the table,” said Petterson.
It seems that the vast majority of people consume the entertainment produced by artists, but never want to support those artists who are creating it. Our society has created a system where the arts are left prey to injustice. By making the decision to cut the theatre major, St. Ambrose University has fallen into the trap.