Baxter multipurpose room

Plans for a new Baxter include a multipurpose room, which with a few minor improvements could become an ideal venue for student performances. The addition of this space could help end the current and future shortage of adequate performance spaces on campus.

The multipurpose room, it is true, was created mainly out of the College’s need for a communal party space. However, it is also true that the multipurpose room has the potential to serve the needs of both student performance groups and student social events. The following improvements would not greatly interfere with the multipurpose room’s role as a place for parties; on the contrary, these changes would be consistent with the requirements of both parties and performances.

Currently, the proposed multipurpose room is a large, rectangular space with a low, small stage at one end. This may be ideal for parties, but it is inadequate for student performers. In order for this room to be truly “multipurpose,” changes are necessary. The inclusion of a dressing room behind the stage (for which, under current plans, there is space) the addition of an entrance from this dressing room to the stage, and a larger stage would make the space performance-friendly.

For the audience to see and hear, the stage must be raised, double doors must be mounted to block noise from the pub, and a set of risers – easily removable for parties – should be constructed or provided.

A lighting and sound booth needs to be installed, both for DJs at parties and the technical demands of performances. The architects have already promised there will be a lighting grid and sound system. With these improvements, the multipurpose room would fill the growing needs of student performance on campus.

Granted, some of these changes would slightly reduce fire capacity for parties, but that slight loss is well worth the enormous gain to such a large amount of students.

As it stands, the quantity and quality of available performance spaces for students on campus cannot compete with the needs of the myriad music, theater, and dance groups at Williams. Student groups can use the public performance spaces such as Goodrich, Currier ballroom, and row house living rooms. However, these spaces are ill-suited to performance.

Goodrich has abominable acoustics, a small stage, and student groups cannot charge for tickets. Currier ballroom has poor visibility, no lighting grid, no stage, and a small seating capacity.

The row house living rooms are tiny, have no stage or lighting equipment, and performances there interfere with residential life. If student groups want a better venue, they can ask the music, dance, or theater departments for access to their stages and venues, but the departments have needs of their own. Student groups must work around the departments’ schedules and obtain performance opportunities when and where they can, if they can.

Indeed, the case of Cap and Bells (of which I am a member) illustrates the need for an adequate student performance space perfectly. Though a beautiful and badly needed new theater is being built, it will be the almost exclusive domain of the theater and dance department, with stages either too technologically advanced or too large for student groups.

The one space that will be intimate enough and technically accessible to students will be the renovated Mainstage in the current Adams Memorial Theater. This space will be the only real option for Cap and Bells in the new theater, and yet it too has drawbacks. It will continue to be quite large (300+ seats) and access to it will be restricted by the needs of the theater department. In any case, Cap and Bells could not afford to produce shows there on a regular basis since they cannot afford sets and light rentals on that scale for every show. With a student performance space, Cap and Bells could occasionally have the option to do theater that is neither on the large scale of the AMT nor on the restricted scale of smaller spaces like Currier and Perry goat room.

But it’s not just the needs of Cap and Bells that would be met by these fairly minor improvements; all student performance groups would benefit.

Aamir Wyne, co-director of Combo Za, said “it’s incredibly hard to get good performance space on campus” since his group is often refused by both the theater and music departments. Asian Theater Project co-chair Romina Bernardo fears that with the present lack of performance spaces, ATP will be forced to perform outdoors this year in unpredictable Massachusetts weather.

Alex Lees, president of Octet, said he too was frustrated with the lack of performance options on campus; his group frequently finds itself forced to look for performance space in houses, but are often refused. Student performances are an integral part of campus life, and have been for more than a century. For this Williams tradition to continue, a performance space in the new Baxter is essential.

If student performance groups work together towards creating a truly multi-purpose space in the new Baxter, we can make a lasting and meaningful improvement to this campus without taking away a place for students to have parties.

Although most of us won’t reap the benefits of the new Baxter, it is still imperative for us to act today, and ensure that the needs of both social events and performances are met.

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