Reason Unknown: Lack of Performing Arts Spaces At Pace Pleasantville

January 3, 2023

Lubin graduate student Amine Kassaoui is a long-time thespian and lover of the theater who minored in theater at SUNY Purchase for his undergraduate degree in journalism. As he prepares to graduate in May, Kassaoui wants to leave his mark at Pace and decided to direct a play on campus this upcoming spring semester – Our Lady of 121st Street  by Stephen Adly Guirgis.

“I don’t want to make it seem like there’s nothing, but compared to a lot of other colleges, it’s very much nothing.” Said Kassaoui. “I would love to just go see a show on campus, where a student runs a show. Just a tiny little thing. No sets, no nothing, no lights, just in a room with kids acting and doing their best. Like that’s inspiring to me. And I saw none of that here. So I saw a little bit of an avenue for something to create.” 

He began to inquire with the MCVA department about spaces to use for rehearsal and production. Faculty members and staff showed Kassaoui options within Wilcox Hall. Chris Langers brought him to the black box studio, but there would be no room for an audience. Dr. Fink showed him the Wilcox Multipurpose Room, but the room’s layout would make it impossible to set up lighting equipment. The Office of Student Engagement even reached out to Kassaoui questioning his intentions with the play and asking whether or not he was a part of a club, which would require authorization and mandatory paperwork from the department very far in advance.

All these hurdles brought Amine to one final conclusion: there is nowhere on campus to showcase a play.

However, this won’t stop Kassaoui from putting on a show. “There’s a lot of red tape. There’s a lot of it, which I’m expecting. I know there’s going to be hurdles, but I’m prepared at least to get us to the finish line. Worst case scenario, we could do it in [Kessel] MPR and that would be fine because we could dress that up.” Kassaoui has no plans in giving up on producing this play and is excited to present it to the Pace community next semester, whatever the venue happens to be.

Kassaoui holding student auditions in Kessel MPR for Our Lady of 121st Street
Photo: Amine Kassaoui
Kassaoui holding student auditions in Kessel MPR for Our Lady of 121st Street
Photo: Amine Kassaoui

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other Pace PLV students and faculty have expressed similar struggles when trying to incorporate performing arts initiatives. Faculty and administrators of Pace Pleasantville, including Dean Tresmaine Grimes and Associate Dean Alerie Tirsch, have no historical or general information as to why there is a lack of performing arts on campus. In comparison to the NYC campus, there are very few spaces or activities that allow students to produce and create their art. 

MCVA adjunct Professor David Freeman has also experienced struggles in finding a proper space to hold rehearsals and shows for the jazz band he used to spearhead. In addition to his schedule this semester being remote, the band dwindled off as students found it difficult to practice on campus.

“Regardless if we have a music or performing component on our campus, it’s disheartening when our professors who are creatives or performers themselves want to bring performative activity-based sessions to their students and there are no adequate or acceptable creative spaces to do so,” said Freeman. 

Freeman also brought his jazz quartet to campus, to demonstrate a live performance for the students in his jazz history class; the only music course taught on the Pleasantville campus. 

“For my jazz music history class, I brought in my jazz quartet. It would have been amazing to have a creative performance space to be able to bring my classes into and present a live music performance to them there, but we don’t have that here,” said Freeman, “And it’s disappointing not to have resources like that on the Pace Pleasantville campus, so we had to go to the least ideal spot, which was like W35. And it’s small and it’s dark and it’s not really conducive for performing. So that is kind of a bummer.”

Aside from their performing arts program, the NYC campus’ media and arts organizations greatly surpass the amount at the Pleasantville campus. NYC has a total of 22 clubs and organizations, including a music group, a theater club, and even a student-run theater production company. Although the Pleasantville campus has 11 clubs under this category, the only club that would be considered performing arts based is the school’s hip-hop dance club. 

Compared to Pleasantville, Pace University’s downtown Manhattan campus wins by a long shot in terms of the amount of performing arts spaces available to students. As the home of Pace’s well-renowned performing arts program, there are numerous spaces and theaters for students to practice and perform their art. 

Pace already has plans in place to add to the Manhattan campus’ adequate performing arts sector. On December 8, 2022, an email was sent on behalf of President Marvin Krislov to announce the University’s $30 million plan to renovate and transform a portion of One Place Plaza; the notorious flagship building that lies in the middle of Pace’s NYC Campus in downtown Manhattan. 

As the subject line reads “A New Future for One Place Plaza”, the email highlights the University’s plans to reconstruct and modernize a “new state-of-the-art Performing Arts Center” consisting of new creative arts and theater spaces and a brand new theater auditorium to replicate the Schimmel Center, a theater auditorium that already occupies the NYC campus. 

Pace University’s Schimmel Theater, located at their NYC Campus
Photo: Sofia Filipe

Dr. Theresa Lant, Director of Lubin’s Arts and Entertainment Management program, has tried to incorporate performing arts within the university’s curriculum and Pleasantville’s extracurricular activities. She is also the Chair of ArcStage’s Executive Board, a performing arts non-profit organization that is composed of three theater companies for children and adults. Minutes away from the Pleasantville train station, Lant has encouraged the Pace community to volunteer and see shows at the organization’s theater. She has made many attempts to initiate a collaboration between ArcStages and Pace University, but it has never been successful.

“We’ve tried and we’ve even had meetings with the Government and Community Relations folks. Part of it is, frankly, turnover here at Pace. So, you know, as people in Community and Government relations that we formed a relationship with, they go and they get other jobs. When that happens, you know, being dead, we have to go and try and make that connection again.” She said.

Both Dr. Lant and Professor Freeman encouraged students to lead a movement to establish more of a performing arts presence on campus. Although faculty members have tried, they feel Pace administrators will listen to the voices and actions of students who are passionate about this. 

Freedman said, “If you could do a letter or petition or a campaign that actually gathers the signatures of student community leaders across campus. It can be anyone walking through a castle but it’s like all of the presidents of each club, the members of WPAW. Then you might have a list of signatures in a formal letter that goes to the President that goes to department heads and this whole letter is making demands of what we want to see and how we need to create a performance space for our creative pursuits on campus that will only help benefit. Why would it not just affect Pleasantville positively, but the university as a whole.”

“I actually think it’s more likely to happen if you have a set of students who are really interested in it,” said Lant. “Because as I said, I was trying to, you know, have these conversations at a more administrative level. It’s not that there’s not interest but there’s so many competing priorities” 

Although there is no definitive answer as to why Pace Pleasantville doesn’t have any performing arts spaces or extracurriculars, the students and faculty have spoken – a change needs to happen.

 

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