By: Sabrina Ramirez
On March 30th, at 7 o’clock, the Theatrical Players and Artists United presented the Rocky Horror Picture Show in the Gerald W. Lynch theatre. It was clear that both the cast and the audience enjoyed the show. Since the primary focus of John Jay College is criminal justice, the play was one of many instances that showed students’ prowess in the arts. Despite this, theater arts can only be studied as a minor.
When asked if John Jay should have a theater major, a majority of students agreed. One in particular, Jonathan Richards, was casted as the play’s narrator. Although he is an English major, Richards said that this can be an ordeal as students may even decide to attend another school that has that option.
“I feel like theater majors are now a minor because there is not a lot of turnout,” said Richard Felipe, a senior. “We’re in a criminal justice college, so certain humanities will usually be ignored or replaced with something else. If the turnout keeps sloping downwards, they will probably just eliminate it. I don’t like that at all. I think the theater in the humanities will offer something for people who have something on the table that will make them stand out in the working world.”
Students aren’t the only ones who feel this way. Professor Martin Wallenstein, the Theatre Minor Coordinator and Chairman for the Department of Communication and Theatre Arts, said that a financial crisis in the 1970’s was actually the basis for this decision.
“There were negotiations with the president back then, Gerald Lynch, to see if the college would stay open. Back then it was a liberal arts college, mainly for law enforcement personnel with traditional majors. But, what we agreed on was that we will take on a criminal justice focus, with majors like forensic science, criminology, forensic psychology, etc. So, for years, we didn’t have liberal art majors. When John Jay decided to offer some, people wanted to try to develop a theater major. When I approached the president about this, they said that it will be too expensive.”
He continued by saying that, although theater arts is not a central focus at John Jay, students can gain experience because roles for plays mostly go to grad students anyway. Students of all majors and ranks can audition and work their way up. By the time they are seniors, they could potentially have the expertise they need to succeed in the performing arts.
“One of the things that happened with the financial crunch is that there’s been cutting down with different departments and one of the departments that’s been cut has been ours,” said Professor Wallenstein. “At one point, we went from 16 faculty members full-time and now we are down to 10. We also lost two theater people and they haven’t been replaced and won’t be. We still have a lot of students who want to be in theater, but without the arts requirements, there are fewer theater courses. The Theater Arts are bundled in with Communications, so it’s not taking a speech class and a theater class together; it’s now one or the other. So, there’s been a reduction in the number of sections we are able to offer.”
When asked if he thinks that there should be a major of theater in John Jay, he agreed. “I think it makes sense to have a theater major here. A lot of theater deals with justice issues and the arts can deal with it in the way that social science can’t. It gives a voice and a human touch to the issues that you are talking about.”
With a smile, he adds, “Most of my students plan to go to law school and theater is pretty good training if you want to be a trial attorney.”