Praxis Tactics: Making Space for McGill's Performing Arts
This petition made change with 217 supporters!
McGill has incredibly sparse choices when it comes to room bookings. This is true whether you're trying to find a place to study, or a place to nap, but it becomes increasingly difficult when you add in pianos, dancers, actors, directors, and props. Despite this, McGill has a vibrant and powerful performing arts scene, that has helped shape the culture of both the university, and the city. Image what we could do with adequate rehearsal space.
Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH) was recently donated to McGill, and now we, the students, teachers, and staff, get to decide how it gets used (http://royalvictoria.mcgill.ca/). Although there are a lot of causes vying for recognition and space, there seems to me to be one that has supported McGill for decades with little acknowledgement, one that has stood the test of time, one that has created a culture of determination, open-mindedness, and creativity since SMUU was founded-- the performing arts.
With your support, we are hoping to create a new series of rehearsal spaces in RVH consisting of...
- The introduction of two large theatre spaces, 30 ft by 30 ft, with full length mirrors and ballet barres across one side of the space,
- 6 smaller, 10 ft by 10 ft spaces, again with full length mirrors and barres, and
- 10 single rooms, like those in RVC for personal practice.
- All 18 of these spaces would be fitted with upright pianos and light dimmers (useful for theatrical rehearsal).
What Can I Do?
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Thank you so much for reading all of this. We have until Feb. 1 to get as many signatures as possible. Let's get going!
Sophia K. Metcalf
FULL PROPOSAL TEXT
What is your vision?
I work as a tour guide for the Welcome Center here at McGill, and of all the questions I’ve received during my tours (“Wait, it gets how cold!?”, “So the drinking age is 18…?”, “Can I drive to campus?”), the hardest one to answer is, “Where can I practice?” For many students, performing arts are a daily expression of life in its truest form. Yet at McGill, there is quite often no place to practice. There is no place to dance unless you pay for classes and no place to sing or play piano unless you can pay Schulich’s hefty premium of $110 a month for access. Effectively, this limits participation in McGill’s thriving performing arts community to those who are financially privileged. Even as a student in the Faculty of Arts, studying music, I was denied practice room access for 3 months. I have met at least 2 dozen students in the psychology department at McGill who want to explore music cognition, many of whom have 10 years of playing experience behind them.Their inability to practice is particularly upsetting as most of them were drawn specifically to McGill by its promise of interdisciplinary learning.
Beyond the examples of the students listed above, my personal experiences have likewise demonstrated the sparsity of available rehearsal space. In particular, I have struggled when trying to book rooms for the various theatre communities here at McGill. We are fortunate to have wonderful creative communities on campus — Players’ Theatre, Tuesday Night Cafe, the Savoy Society, Opera McGill, AUTS, the Department of English, Actus Reus, the Classics Department’s Theatre troupe — yet the lack of properly equipped rooms significantly hinders these communities’ ability to succeed in their endeavors. McGill loves to boast about Busty and the Bass and Arcade Fire, but we do not give new promising groups the space they need to truly grow.
Here is what I propose:
- The introduction of two large theatre spaces, 30 ft by 30 ft, with full length mirrors and ballet barres across one side of the space.
- 6 smaller, 10 ft by 10 ft spaces, again with full length mirrors and barres.
- 10 single rooms, like those in RVC for personal practice.
- All 18 of these spaces would be fitted with upright pianos and light dimmers (useful for theatrical rehearsal). Preferably, each would have a small free-standing closet for storage of blocks, fabrics, and instruments (accessible via a key, for professor use only). They would be card access only, and no street shoes would be allowed in the rooms. Although they would be open to all students regardless of faculty, access would only be granted if the room had been applied for, 48 hours in advance. Card access would then be restricted to the McGill ID # under which the request was made and only the requested time. As with the Schulich practice rooms, time slots would not exceed 3 consecutive hours for the smaller spaces and 4 consecutive hours for the large spaces.
Although I understand this is a large and expensive undertaking, I believe there are ways to alleviate the university’s total monetary expense. For example, clubs could be charged a nominal fee for booking the spaces (say, $5 an hour). I would also add that these practice rooms could potentially help us compete with the artistic flourishes of Dawson and Concordia. Potential students would be able to see that it is indeed possible to be a researcher who sings opera, an engineer who loves piano, or a computer scientist who break dances. These are not mutually exclusive options, and if we wish to continue our reputation as a well-rounded and interdisciplinary school, we must stop forcing students to choose between them.
I was working at Service Point at the beginning of this year, creating new ID cards for incoming first year students, and I was chatting with one student who had said she was from the States. She said she was from New York City, and went on to say that growing up she danced all the time, took every class she could, but felt “that part of my life is over”. Another student on a tour told me that she loved McGill, but she couldn’t give up practicing piano in her spare time, and was going to choose the University of Toronto instead. We cannot afford to lose these students due to a simple lack of dedicated space. They are too brilliant, and we have too much to offer for this to be our one shortcoming.
Which units, groups or organizations would be good partners to create your ideal neighbourhood? Would their proximity within the RVH help advance your initiative? With which McGill groups have you spoken or worked to develop this vision? Are there any external partners that you envision as natural collaborators?
I have already communicated with a number of internal groups (see attached petition) who would be greatly helped by this initiative. Currently, they all commune on campus, but in buildings as diverse as the McLennan library and the Wirth studio. Part of the goal in creating these rehearsal spaces would be to create a new axis of meeting and communication between disparate performing communities. Having proximal rehearsal spaces means that groups could easily communicate via a bulletin board, or posters. Something this simple would make a drastic change in each group’s awareness of others around McGill.
In terms of collaborators in greater Montreal, groups such as the McGill Conservatory, Beautiful City Theatre, and In the Wings Productions could all use these spaces, again for fees determined at a later date. Further, the university could financially benefit by charging external groups greater rental fees for the available spaces. These classrooms could also be used to host guest speakers specializing in music therapy, music and autism research, movement and cognition, theatre techniques, collaborative arts, drama therapy, clown and mask, speech therapy, spoken word and slam poetry, or presentation skills, to name a few. These spaces, therefore, could be used not only as meeting hubs for on campus performance groups, but likewise as venues for hands-on learning across disciplines.
What type of space would you need to foster this increased collaboration and interactions in service of academic excellence and scholarship with enduring impact? How would your initiative use the unique characteristics of the RVH location?
In order to build this neighborhood image, the performing arts community would need eight mirrored spaces as listed above under question one. It would be of great benefit to have more of the 10’ by 10’ rehearsal spaces, but beginning with six will be of great impact. As for logistics, professors have expressed to me a desire for storage closets in these rooms, accessible with a key (for class use only). It is important to stress that these spaces would go beyond the needs of extracurricular groups. Classes such as Clown and Mask, and the Directors’ Projects could use these spaces as meeting rooms for both lecture and rehearsal. As a member of the English Department’s fall 2015 production, I was a first hand witness to the wonderful work going on in our theatre department-- the professor and student interaction is unmatched by any other department I’ve experienced thus far. Between the costuming department, the stage technicians, and the actors, there was constant collaboration between professors and students, and no fear of being judged for making a mistake. This collaboration is dynamic and engaging; it challenges students to synthesize knowledge from all aspects of their classes, careers, and life experiences. The enduring impact of these teachings-- active intelligence and quick wittedness, the ability to think without technology-- is unmeasurable. We are entering a world in which technology is moving far too quickly to be matched by memorization. Supple, fast thinkers, able to interface actively with colleagues and be wholly present in discussion will be the catalysts for meaningful change in the world to come. McGill is capable of producing this caliber of student, and is currently doing so, in small doses. These spaces could synthesize an entirely new way of thinking and teaching, founded on shared experiences between professors and students.
Allowing these rooms to be accessible to all students regardless of faculty would also inspire new kinds of creativity. I believe they would create a greater community of collaborators at McGill: more poets working with composers, more playwrights utilizing actors for new works. By lessening the monetary burden on the individual student, we could allow students from all walks of life and background to create without great risk.
How would your vision add value to the University as a whole and advance its academic mission?
Aside from using these new spaces as potential hands-on classrooms when they are not being used for rehearsals, they would be instrumental in creating a new interdisciplinary track at McGill. The performing arts programs at McGill are world-renowned, yet the performances, although they occur several times each semester, do not garner adequate monetary support from the McGill nor from the greater Montreal community. Therefore, it would be my hope that along with the creation of these classrooms, a new focus could be added to the Desautels School of Business: marketing and production of the arts. Students could be assigned to cover a specific production, using these rehearsal spaces for photo shoots, design meetings, et cetera. This would strengthen understanding between the faculty of Management and the faculties of Arts and Music, thus improving the Montreal performance community as a whole.
These theatre rehearsal spaces would also promote new horizons of learning in terms of theatre, dance, voice, and instrumental studies, allowing more praxis in largely theory-based curricula. Although theory is essential in the arts, having these spaces would allow students to put into practice what they learn in class. As a research institute, McGill puts great importance on students using in the lab what they learn in the classroom. Having these rehearsal spaces would broaden this opportunity for praxis-based research as well.
How would your vision benefit the communities we serve off campus, locally, nationally or internationally?
In terms of local communities, groups such as the Centaur Theatre, the Main Line Theatre, and the Fringe Festival would all benefit from these new rehearsal spaces. Musicians across campus would appreciate a space to practice, which in turn would support the concerts, cafes, and coffee houses hosted at McGill. The a cappella communities would also be helped by these spaces.
In terms of national and international communities, these spaces would eventually provide better equipped performing arts students to Masters programs all over the world. Besides that, we would foster a new and much needed home for Canadian theatre and music. This was part of the decision to ask for a hall of the Heritage Buildings. Yes, it is just a name, but it also means that these performance spaces, while expanding McGill’s learning environments, would also celebrate the rich and diverse history proceeding them, the greater human story that the University is helping to tell. By allowing students to discover through practice and performance works they study in their classes, McGill will create a place where the stories of Canadian and Quebecois writers can be told to fresh, modern audiences. McGill will create stronger performance and performer-related communities, with a focus on the expansive exploratory history of its research.
McGill University is, I fully believe, one of the best universities in the world: not just in the remarkable opportunities for research it offers its students, not just because the professors here are engaging and beyond intelligent, but also because we encourage students to engage actively with the world around them. A McGill student is special because they seek not to know, but to learn. These practice spaces would allow for the performing arts community here at McGill to explore in depth the human experience as it is put forth in theatre, dance, and music. They would unify a disparate community, and draw in new, multitalented students who would help to propel McGill University into the future. This simple act of support for the performing arts clubs on campus, as well as for the faculty of English, would create a new culture of interdisciplinary learning, a new community of cross-faculty intelligence, and, with luck, a new breed of good ol’ McGill passion.
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