TMCC faculty create performance opportunities without a venue of their own
“All the world’s a stage … especially when you don’t have one of your own.” That’s been the unofficial motto of Truckee Meadow Community College’s Visual and Performing Arts department since the announcement two years ago that the school would not renew its lease on the Nell J. Redfield Performing Arts Center (RPAC) on Keystone Avenue, the venue it had occupied since 2003.
Instead, the school would commence plans for its own new theater space on campus, tentatively named the East View Building. But while those plans currently exist in theory only, the department finds itself adrift for performances. Old and rundown the RPAC may have been, but it had been theirs, offering enough space to have allowed the company to earn a reputation for big musicals and extravagant sets. When the curtain fell for the last time in spring, the department began a new, somewhat nomadic existence, and its faculty has pulled out all the stops to create innovative performance opportunities for students.
Scrambling for stages
Though the decision to establish a new, campus-based theater came as exciting news, TMCC leaders made no provisions for a replacement venue. The Visual and Performing Arts curriculum would not change, and the expectations that theater, dance and music students would perform did not change.
“I don’t want to gloss over the fact that there have been pretty big challenges associated with us moving out of RPAC,” said Ron Marston, chair of Visual and Performing Arts. “The faculty really stepped up to address those challenges. They had to figure out how we were going to move out of a dedicated space that we’d had for about 15 years and start from ground zero. It was basically left to the faculty to come up with that plan. And, to their huge credit, they did.”
Marston’s first idea was to assemble a Performing Arts Task Force, a committee comprised of roughly 10 full- and part-time performing arts faculty, as well as representatives from the TMCC Foundation and staffers in the school’s Marketing & Communications and Facilities Operations and Capital Planning offices. The committee began brainstorming and setting plans in motion.
First, a search inward led them to consider a classroom space that had been used primarily for dance instruction.
“Red Mountain 240 was our main teaching classroom, but in the wake of the recent opening of the Sports and Health Complex, a new building on campus, and the closure of RPAC, we made the request to take that room over as a dedicated space and renovate it into a proper classroom and performance lab so that it could be used efficiently for dance classes, dance and theater rehearsals and small performances,” said Dayna DeFilippis, instructor of dance, exercise and human movement.
The proposal was accepted, and the department has recently been assured of having this dedicated space, which can seat about 50. Additionally, the task force identified the student services center as a potential venue, and on Nov. 22 and 23 the department will present its first production of the fall in that space. That’s Entertainment, directed by DeFilippis and Ted Owens, will be a musical theater cabaret featuring an original program of song and dance from popular Broadway musicals in a cabaret-style setting. The student center also will host a TMCC band concert in early December.
Smaller shows were one part of the solution, but it was clear the department would need other options for students to have the performance opportunities they needed.
“My initial response was, ’Wow. We’re going to be on campus.’ It was a no-brainer, to go from Keystone to this beautiful new East View Building they’ve got planned. But it’s the time in between that we are being very creative,” said Interim Performing Arts Coordinator Carolyn Wray. “We’re like those Mickey Rooneys and Judy Garlands: ’Let’s put on a show in the barn.’ And we’re finding barns all over town.”
Longtime local theater pro Stacey Spain, a TMCC theater instructor, was one of the task force participants. “One of the first things we did was ask, ’What performance spaces are available in this city?’” she said. “We went through all the community theaters, all the spaces. And we thought that anyone who’s running a space has the overhead associated with that space, and they need to cover those costs. We worked diligently, looking for solutions—where we could go, what kinds of partnerships we could have. We looked at a lot of different models. Renting a community theater was really cost prohibitive.”
The performing arts faculty realized that although they might not have money to rent spaces, what they did have was a lot of people who could trade their elbow grease for space. If they would be willing to roll up their sleeves and help theaters in the community by loaning their talent and hard work, they might just get “barns” where they could perform in exchange.
As director of Reno Little Theater’s production of Harvey, Spain had an opportunity to include four of her TMCC students in the cast, allowing them to get performance credit. And in collaboration with Brüka’s Theatre for Children, TMCC students will participate in a touring children’s production visiting schools around Reno and Carson City.
Next, they looked at partnerships with local high schools. They turned to the TMCC Jump Start program, in which high schoolers earn dual credit for college. Two of its sites, Reno and Damonte Ranch high schools, had beautiful theaters in which Jump Start students could perform and college students could earn experience as both cast and crew. The first such production is The Light Burns Blue, running now through Nov. 16 at Damonte Ranch High School and featuring Jump Start and TMCC theater students.
At Reno High, Spain and Wray made a deal: TMCC students and production crew would work on making renovations to the theater space, and in exchange the college would have access to the space for next year’s shows. On Nov. 15, Jump Start students will present Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest at Reno High.
And on Dec. 6-7, the final performance of 2019, 4 X’mas, a collection of four one-act plays by George Cameron Grant, and Yule Believe, an original one-act by Spain, will take over the newly updated Red Mountain 240.
The faculty are still eyeing other spaces around the community. Marston said he’s reached out—as yet unsuccessfully—to UNR in hopes of forming a partnership, and DeFilippis said she’s interested in perhaps finding space at the Nevada Museum of Art or in outdoor venues. They all welcome offers from the community for spaces, vehicles and donations that might aid in their portable production efforts. With ticket sales obviously being less than in years past, funding is even tighter than ever.
Ultimately, the message from all faculty is that though the next few years may involve some creative solutions (to say the least), students should not be concerned that the curriculum will be watered down or that they will not have opportunities to perform. In fact, they may get more real-world experience now than ever before. After all, anyone looking for a career in the performing arts should get used to creative problem solving, innovative venue use and bootstrap efforts to get on stage.
“In terms of looking at how we can become part of the broader theater community, this is a great time to do that,” Spain said.