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The Student Voice of UNC Asheville

The Blue Banner

The Student Voice of UNC Asheville

The Blue Banner

UNC Asheville drama department struggles to keep up with university updates

The University of North Carolina at Asheville’s drama department recently announced their spring show season amid budget cuts and staffing issues.

“We live in the most expensive city in the state. You have a good majority of people who work for this university who are struggling to just make ends meet at the end of the month, and because we are understaffed they are doing way more work and they’re getting paid for,” said Casey Watkins, a faculty member who works in the drama department.

Watkins said the drama department at the university has a past of having to make up for missing support because of budget issues, staffing concerns and overworking of faculty. She said because of this there has been a huge gap left for the actual attention students need.

Watkins said the reason why the majority of the drama department is so understaffed is because when the original faculty retired, the university did not allow the drama department to hire new people back because of what the budget allowed. She said since then they have been relying heavily on adjunct professors as well as staff for most of their classes.

“When I was hired I was not only just the costume designer, but I was also the costume shop manager, which usually in academic settings are two completely separate jobs. I was working basically eight hours a day, seven days a week to get shows to happen. It really pissed me off because the students were not able to learn anything, and it was just simply not fair to their experience. I also was honestly just exhausted. Two years ago I was able to convince the university that I needed help,” Watkins said.

Watkins said in the fall semester of 2022, the drama department was able to pay for help in the costume shop, and more recently in the 2024 spring semester, the drama department was able to have a paid technical director position.

“As a lot of people are, I am incredibly frustrated with the situation. It has already been hard to keep my job each semester because I am listed as a temporary staff member, even though I have already been here for two years. I have to convince the university that I should have a job every semester, and so far it has been the department paying my position out of endowed funds, and they simply can’t do it. It is not sustainable,” said Madisyn Craig, full-time staff member and costume shop runner of the drama department.

Craig said she and the drama department tried to get her job to become permanent. The most recent announcement from the chancellor means a hiring freeze which brings all of the effort to come to a halt.

“We are exhausting every avenue to try to make sure I can keep my job, but it is highly likely I won’t be here next semester. This is the time where I would usually be trying to figure out where my funding would be coming from for the following semester, so come May I would know if I have a job or not. It’s what happens every semester. This year, I haven’t been able to do that,” Craig said.

Craig said because of all of the budget stuff going on right now, she hasn’t even been given a concrete answer on if she will be able to have a full-time job in the next upcoming year. Craig said it has also been affecting little elements, such as she can’t even buy basic fabric for the students to use in the costume shop.

“This is a place where we have to use a lot of consumables, and I can’t even buy those things for the students to use. Instead for class, I am pulling things from different places for students to have materials to use, when in reality I should be using those things for shows. All of this is happening because we are not allowed to buy anything,” Craig said.

According to Craig, the university has been saying they don’t want to mess with the university experience, but what they don’t realize is if you are going to remove all of the elements, such as adjunct professors and staff members, you won’t have anyone actually working hands on with the students. She said part of the theatrical pedagogy is having students be able to make tangible items such as costumes, props and set pieces.

“Besides the fact we are not allowed to make any purchases, I am trying to make sure that the students I have been able to help teach, will be okay on their own. If Casey is being pulled to not only teach the classes she is teaching now but also having to cover for the classes after the adjunct professors leave, then she will be too busy to even work in the costume shop. If they expect Casey to do my job, her job and tech classes that have nothing to do with theater. It is completely ridiculous. But it is probably going to happen,” Craig said.

According to Casey Watkins, the funding for Madisyn has come directly from departmental budgets, and because of the recent budget announcement, there is nothing left. Watkins said because of this, in future years the drama department will not be able to afford Madisyn any longer.

“Just the way my brain works, I think micro and macro simultaneously. From the micro level as my position as chair, I recognize that I have a specific point of view. If we think about the institution with all of the hierarchy and bureaucracy which comes along with it, I can only speak from the purview of being the chair of the department. My responsibility is for stewarding the funds that we have been given. ” said Lise Kloepel, chair of the university’s drama department.

Kloepel said the drama department receives student fee money and other funds which sometimes are restricted in how they are used.

Kloepel said the drama department is worried because they rely heavily on funds that were raised from the original founder of the drama department. She said that the funds originally raised as well as some ticket sales have been what got the department through the fallout of COVID-19 leading up to this point. Student fee money is often used to fund productions.

“The way that we do productions here is that it is open to anybody on campus. We serve the whole community, with having open programming for both majors and non-majors. As well as programming for anyone who wants to join,” Kloepel said.

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