Following A-B Tech’s production of Unnecessary Farce in April, the local community college will discontinue its drama courses and terminate those faculty members. The decision was made after the state omitted theater from the list of courses guaranteed to be accepted as transfer credits by all 16 state universities.
“If a course is not on this list, it doesn’t mean a university wouldn’t take it, but we really need to focus on courses that all of them would accept, and unfortunately drama is not on the list,” says Beth Stewart, A-B Tech’s dean of arts and sciences.
The Associate in Fine Arts degree in drama was created in 2011, and to date only one student has graduated with it, although four more are expected to complete their degrees this school year. As a result, the degree program was discontinued last year, though the classes were continued to enable students already enrolled to graduate. Meanwhile, the department sometimes struggles to fill those courses. Some have even had to be canceled due to low enrollment. “We have to use our resources in the best way we can, and we didn’t feel like we could continue those classes,” Stewart explains.
Lack of space is also an issue: The college’s black box theater can accommodate only a few dozen people. “We’ve never had a place to call home, really,” notes drama instructor Peter Carver.
The Drama Club has staged productions at the school since 2003. Earlier this month, students directed, acted in and produced the club’s 18th offering, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But with no drama program next year, the club’s fate is in doubt. Besides the lack of theater courses, there won’t be a faculty advisor, which every student group must have.
“It saddens me that these people won’t be getting the education they should be getting,” says Carver. “We’re not just a training program for future actors: We’re a liberal arts program. You develop confidence, presence; you handle stage fright, you learn to work with a team, you learn to work on a deadline. All these things employers really want.”
Theater is one of the best ways to learn important people skills, says Summer Peffers, the student who directed Rocky Horror Picture Show. “All these kids in this department were shy and quiet, and now they’re outspoken and know what they want to be,” she points out. The administration, she believes, “should care more about what the community wants at a community college, and not what the state is requiring and what’s the base minimum they can get away with. They should give all the arts a chance, especially in a town like Asheville.”
Stewart, however, says that while discontinuing the drama program was “a difficult decision,” it will enable A-B Tech to give its art and music programs more attention. “We would like to be able to offer theater, but we are not in a position where we can now. Some of the changes to the state degrees should allow us to grow the arts, and so that’s where we’re going to focus.” — Micah Wilkins