Behind the Scenes of a Year Without a Theatre
By Paris Barraza Additional Reporting by Nadine Hale Hautea
Violet and turquoise lights lit the stage and shrouded the dimmed room in a soft glow as students made their way down the aisles to find a seat in the theater. Towards the back of the room, Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts Kelly Ford-Kaminsky and President of Theatre Club 22-year-old Cecile Entz, sit together with an unobstructed view of the stage in front, prepared to make any adjustments to the Theatre Art's Spring production, "As You Like It."
That evening, April 3, was their preview performance before opening day on April 4. Kaminsky, Entz and the team behind "As You Like It" readied themselves to ensure everything would go smooth for the first show. The comedic play written by William Shakespeare tells the story of two lovers who seek each other out after both flee from their homes amid rising tensions. In a unique twist, the theater department adapted the play to be set in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic society with cast members running about in holographic spandex.
Beyond the bright colors of the digital backdrops and the smart quips of the actors, is a larger understanding of what "As You Like It" symbolizes. This is the first production held in the Chaffey Theatre since the end of 2017.
In the fall of 2017, students of the theater department were aware of the changes the department was about to undergo. "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change" marked the final production held inside the theater before renovations would be made to the building.
These renovations were provided by Measure L, a general obligation bond passed by voters in the Chaffey Community College District on March 5, 2002. According to Chaffey College's Measure L Construction Update, the purpose of Measure L was to fund:
"New construction, infrastructure repair, renovation and upgrades to existing facilities, and procurement of educational equipment."
Additions like the Visual and Performing Arts Complex and Music Building and the Panther Express on the Rancho Cucamonga campus were part of Measure L, as well as roadwork repairs, fire alarm upgrades and re-roofing the Business Education Building. Part of Measure L included renovations that would better equip the theater department population, including renovation of the east and west theater wings to upgrade the interior of the classrooms as well as provide new lighting and more accessibility.
Students within the theater department were informed of the general plans that would affect them in fall of 2017.
"We were told that they [theatre] were going to go under construction, the theatre was going to be closed down and that they were going to redo the green room," Entz recalls. "And that it was only going to take a semester tops."
What was believed to be a semester-long project turned into a year of construction. A year in which the theater department faculty and students were relocated to classrooms in the Vocational and Student Support (VSS) Building and the Swing Space Village (SSV) portable rooms. A year in which students had no stage to perform on and limited access to their equipment.
Fellow theater student and former Theater Club secretary 22-year-old Silvana "Sil" Rodriguez spent nearly five years with the theater department.
"I've been around when we actually perform on stage. When we actually had classrooms," Rodriguez starts, before continuing, "Before construction started, we had our stage, for one, so we had classes in there, and it worked because we could take lighting [class] in there. We had our blackbox, which wasn't in the best condition either, but it was in a classroom that we can call ours."
A blackbox is a performance space used for a variety of exercises, whether it be used as an actual stage for a production or for other work to be conducted. To the theater students at Chaffey, this important space was disrupted by the construction. This was also a common space to use for Theater Club meetings.
"It's this extra way for us to voice our love of theater. Our theater club normally does a mainstage showcase, so it'll be all student run. Now we don't get to do that, because we have no space for it. The professors who can be our advisors, it doesn't work out because the others [professors] are in the classroom at the same time. Before we could easily say, hey the blackbox is open at this time," Rodriguez explains.
Unable to perform in a production ran by the theater club and experience what it is like to be in a show, students relied on their 2018 Spring production "Love and Information" to land a role as part of their graduation requirements. Similarly, Entz reveals how students were in the same position with "As You Like It," leading to a crowded ensemble with no proper space to rehearse.
The extended construction resulted in a plethora of inconveniences and questionable learning environments. While Entz casually remarks about having to carry equipment to their relocated spaces after the initial closure of the theatre, Rodriguez provides more insight as to just how much the construction affects these students.
"I'm currently in a lighting class and have no way to actually learn lighting because we're in cinema," Rodriguez begins, before she adds, "I'm struggling in my lighting class because I have no idea what the space up above even means. Our projector went out so we can't watch videos on lighting. So if we're in this space that is not ours, that is breaking and we can't fix it and can't use it, how are we supposed to learn the material?"
Alongside the difficulties faced in these temporary spaces, the room they occupy in the VSS building is problematic for other reasons. The smaller room made it difficult for students to comfortably practice in while their proximity to the math classes kept them from rehearsing their lines to the extent needed.
These mounting frustrations led some students to seek support and champion for a change in the procedures. On March 21, 2019, a group of theatre students addressed the Chaffey College Governing Board and asked for answers about the delayed project and lack of resources made available during. Inside the official Regular Session Agenda for the March 21 meeting states:
"Theatre students Evgeniya Zapata, Beth Royal, Cecile Entz, Marc Anthony Perez, Kylie Paguio and Elise Flores addressed the Board regarding their experiences in the theatre department over the past two and a half semesters. The students referred to construction in the theatre and stated that the spaces they have been displaced to have not been adequate.
"They also objected to not being a part of the planning process. The students further stated that the displacement has caused students to leave Chaffey, which has resulted in class cancellations. This has caused students to complete their degrees at other colleges, and concern for the continuance of the theatre arts department at Chaffey College."
For Kaminsky, this year-long project proved especially troubling. To her, the delays in renovations were the tip of the iceberg of what felt like a larger problem of lack of equity between departments at Chaffey.
Though acting Associate Superintendent of Instruction and Institutional Effectiveness Laura Hope clarified she recently assumed this position after working at California Community College's Chancellor Office, she shared her thoughts on the situation.
The renovations for the theatre department lasted longer due to both unexpected findings and increased scrutiny by the State Department of Architects. The 60-year-old building had electrical and plumbing issues and by law, students would not be allowed in these spaces until any construction was complete.
"What we try to provide is the best learning space," Hope shares.
In response to the question of equity, Hope made her opinion clear. Programs should not be equitable, but rather be adequately sourced. Essentially, the demands of the different departments at Chaffey would be met but under the notion that every demand is unique and therefore requires a unique solution.
Theater department students hoped to have the theatre reopened in time for their production, "As You Like It." By the end of March, they had access to the theatre. Within this short window, students quickly prepared for the April 4 opening night of "As You Like It," something Kaminsky applauded her students for.
Despite an enduring struggle of misinformation, lack of communication and frustration, no one would be able to tell that this performance, held in the Chaffey Theatre, was a long time in the making.
"When you hear music, it's such a big part of everyone's life, right? People listen to music to get through their day, use music to connect with other people. Theater, for us, is also that," Rodriguez shares.