The drama behind drama?

On the campus of Carnegie Mellon, the diversity of students’ abilities and passions lends itself to a wide array of opportunities for entertainment and exploration year-round. Drastically different majors can come together to make strides in various fields — take the roboceptionist, which brought together robotics students and drama students. The School of Drama, currently presenting House of Blue Leaves, is a vital contributor to the overall diversity on Carnegie Mellon’s campus.

Musical theater students and drama design majors alike work on shows throughout the year. Romeo and Juliet and The Oresteia Project are just two examples of performances to come in the 2006–2007 season. However, House of Blue Leaves, written by John Guare and directed by Karen Carpenter, is currently causing quite a stir. It is causing students, faculty, and Pittsburgh community members to wonder, “What’s with the drama behind drama?”

The conflict concerns many of the School of Drama’s supporters, who claim that they have been unable to purchase tickets to see House of Blue Leaves despite a history of interest in performances at Carnegie Mellon. Criticizing the heads of the drama box office for not reserving enough student tickets, many are questioning their ability to patronize the School of Drama without the ability to view — and tell others about — its shows.

According to the School of Drama, the main reason that the scarcity of tickets has drawn so much attention is that House of Blue Leaves is being housed in a theater unusual for CFA performances. The show is located at the Helen Wayne Rauh Studio Theater, rather than the usual, larger venue of the Philip Chosky Theater. The use of the smaller space is due in part to “curriculum changes” in the School of Drama, said Maria Stoy, the School of Drama’s box office manager. The Chosky Theatre has a capacity of 430, but the Rauh Studio can manage an audience of only 120 for each of the 10 shows. It is this smaller number of available seats that, at least in part, contributed to a deficit of tickets. According to the box office records, House of Blue Leaves sold out by mid-September.

Susan Tsu, a professor of costume design, acknowledged the difficulty of satisfying a demand for tickets within the confines of a small performance space. “Since this is the first year we are doing a fully mounted advertised production in the Rauh Theatre, we have indeed run up against some challenges,” she stated in an e-mail.

Tsu appears to be in the minority, as many faculty members of the School of Drama seem unaware that their students feel disadvantaged. Stoy explained that the majority of tickets purchased go to those with season subscriptions — usually off-campus community members. Only a small percentage of the subscribers are students or faculty members.
When students voiced their dissatisfaction, the box office listened. Dick Block, the associate head of the School of Drama, explained that several steps were taken in response to registered complaints. The School of Drama struggled to find ways to make the most of the Rauh Studio. Block said, “The last two rehearsals [as of October 13] were opened up for students. A bank of seats was added to increase the number in the audience.” He continued, “The box office keeps a waiting list so that [seats of] cancelled tickets will be used.”

So is there really drama in the School of Drama? None that is intentional. The School of Drama and the box office are not doing anything to restrict the access of any Carnegie Mellon students. According to Block, “We encourage our students to see as many of our productions as they can and we do everything we can to make it possible. There would be no reason for the School of Drama to deny our students access to the work that their colleagues are doing.”