Arts & Culture Blog
MPC and Hartnell Theater Departments Rally Supporters Against a Restrictive Proposal
May 22, 2012
Last month, local and statewide theater groups staved off Assembly Bill 2540, put forth by Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-43rd District), which would have added a 7.5 percent sales tax to live theater tickets. The campaign against the bill was mobilized by the Theatre Communications Group, a nonprofit organization of, according to its website, "nearly 700 member theatres and affiliate organizations and more than 12,000 individuals nationwide," and picked up and disseminated locally by member Jeffrey Heyer, Western Stage's Assistant to the Artistic Program Director.
Despite the scarce warning about the bill, an email and phone campaign was launched Friday, April 20, and by the following Monday, the bill was removed from the calendar by Assemblyman Gatto.
"This is a great advocacy success and your voices made a difference!" wrote TCG's Director of Government & Education Programs Laurie Baskin. "Thank you for mobilizing so quickly!"
But local theater programs are under threat again, this time further upstream, and this time narrowly targeted via state community colleges.
According to a May 7 press release, the California Community Colleges Board of Governors are considering a proposal that would prevent students from "needlessly" repeating classes in "physical education, performing and visual arts classes" to reserve more space for transfer and degree- and license-seeking students.
"In California, as opposed to other states, the funding is mostly on the shoulders of the state, not student," says Barry Russell, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. "Other states have higher tuition. Even at $46 a unit, that's about a third of what most states are set at. We had to figure out a way to contain some of those costs and give guidance.
"Let's be frank, we are rationing public education, so we're trying to put some priorities. Repeatable courses...some may take [them] four times, sometimes for recreation, like bowling, for example. They don't have to take the course, but they like it. The state shouldn't be paying for a course students have already passed."
In a statement issued in the press release, Chancellor Jack Scott said, "It used to be we could be all things to all people. Those days are gone, and now we have to focus on those with the greatest need.”
But Heyer thinks that's going in the wrong direction.
"You have to explore the medium, work different [theater] shows," he says. "Every performance class is radically different, they have different requirements. You can no more become successful in [theater] without time and study as you could running a factory or brain surgery."
Gary Bolen, Chairman of the Drama Department at Monterey Peninsula College, wrote in a May 14 email to MPC Theatre Company supporters (which Heyer re-circulated May 17), "This is part of a widespread movement to take the 'community' out of community colleges and tailor services to transfer students only -- and disenfranchise the Lifelong Learners that make the CA community college system the rich, vibrant, diverse, and treasured institution it has become…Times are tough, we all know that. But THIS CANNOT BE the BEST SOLUTION!"
But Paige Marlatt, the CCC's Director of Communication, says community colleges have alternatives. "College can move classes to community service courses and the cost can be picked up by the student instead of taxpayer," she says. "[Or] if someone takes the first level of the course, maybe the college offers more levels and they can move up. They just can't repeat the same course.
"Our system has had, year after year, cuts. We have long waiting lists of kids trying to get into classes. We're having to turn away hundreds of thousands of children from taking their core classes."
Marlatt suggests that the situation—$908 million in lost funding in recent years, 300,000 fewer students in the system since the 2008-09 academic year—calls for these measures.
Heyer and Bolen are rallying the local theater and community college communities to "circle the wagons" to defend against the proposal, urging them to contact the Board of Governors and to contact their local legislators.
"The individual politician, in this case the governor, has to decide what he's going to do," Heyer says. "I don't think he'll be as careless to not listen to what people say before he does it."
Heyer admits he's not sure how accountable or responsive the CCC board, 20 people appointed by the governor who meet in Sacramento, may be to a public campaign that worked so effectively in removing the Assembly bill. A public meeting was held May 7, when the 45-day public comment period began.
The CCC statement says a second reading of the regulation, which was drafted by the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, will take place in July.
"And if approved," it reads, "then will take effect in the fall of 2013."