The University Conversion Experience, Part 1

The second “pillar” of university innovation is the formation of “projects.” But just what is a project, and why are projects so important? To get into this subject, let’s start with some particulars and work out. Consider, first, the problem of a theater group hosted by, captured, and “converted” by a university.

Shutting Down the Bard

The University of California, Santa Cruz announced in August 2013 that it will “cease production” of Shakespeare Santa Cruz, a theater company and festival that ran for over thirty years. And that is what has happened. But the situation is not so simple and the outcome rather odd. The upshot is that Shakespeare Santa Cruz is not shut down, but rather its personnel have had to start a new organization, with a new name remarkably like the old name, while the university takes possession of assets of the old organization. More is up than simply closing down a program.

A bit of background. Shakespeare Santa Cruz started in 1981, about fifteen years after The Regents of the University of California created a new campus at Santa Cruz. With the help of the Wayback Machine, here is how Shakespeare Santa Cruz depicted in August 2013 its relationship to UCSC (my emphasis):

Founded in 1981, Shakespeare Santa Cruz (SSC) is a professional repertory company operating in cooperation with the Theater Arts Department in the Arts Division at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC). The support of the Arts Division and the work of the Theater Arts faculty, students, and staff play an important in shaping the SSC aesthetic. Through this partnership, SSC has attained a national reputation for linking the best in contemporary scholarship with the highest artistic standards of production and the exciting possibilities of repertory performance. In addition, SSC and the UCSC Theater Arts Department collaborate directly on two projects each season – the Shakespeare to Go touring program that brings Shakespeare to over 7000 students annually, and the annual holiday show.

If we continue to use the Wayback Machine, we can see how Shakespeare Santa Cruz depicted itself in October 1999, just after it had created a web site. Note that the web site is not a UCSC domain, but rather www.shakespearesantacruz.org. Whois still lists the owner of the domain as Shakespeare Santa Cruz, with an address shared with UCSC, but with independent tech support for the website. [Update 5/27/16–the domain is now registered to a Japanese company, Axelight, that appears to be a private squatter on web domains, offering them for sale… such a sad fate!]. In 1999, Shakespeare Santa Cruz described itself as a festival, and lists a board of directors that has only two people on it who work at UCSC, none of them in administrative positions.

Shakespeare Santa Cruz also provided an account of its history. It is worth quoting, if for no other reason than to pull some text from the Wayback Machine back into the land of the virtual living (my emphasis):

The earliest germ of an idea for a Santa Cruz Shakespeare festival came in 1975, said Stanley.

Stanley, a UCSC professor, is the first woman to direct Shakespeare at Ashland’s prestigious Shakespeare festival. She’s also worked with the Berkeley and Colorado Shakespeare festivals. Her production of The Winter’s Tale caught the eye of fellow UCSC professor and Dean of Humanities, renowned Shakespeare scholar C.L. Barber, who suggested that she consider the possibility of a Santa Cruz festival.

Barber, whose 1959 book Shakespeare’s Festive comedies: A Study in Dramatic Form and its Relation to Social custom is still an important text, died in early 1980. His death prompted sociology professor Dane Archer to write then-chancellor Robert Sinsheimer, proposing a Santa Cruz Shakespeare festival to commemorate Barber’s memory and draw attention to the campus, providing a medium where often-strained town-gown relations could improve.

By the end of 1980, a group of UC people and community members had come together as Shakespeare Santa Cruz.

In February 1981, festival coordinator Kristin Bolder-Froid submitted a proposal suggesting a 1982 summer festival with two plays (King Lear and A Midsummer Night’s Dream) seminars, workshops, and films.

The Chancellor approved the plan, gave the fledgling company a significant start-up grant and the festival was on its way. Karen Sinsheimer, the founding board president, along with Stanley, Cleo Barber, and Stella Kahrs, worked at generating community support and developed a Board of Directors that would represent the community as “co-producers” of the Festival.

This account suggests that the “festival” was proposed to the Chancellor, who provided startup funding. The on-going premise of the festival, besides putting on great performances, was to draw attention to the UCSC campus and cultivate community relations. Performances were mostly outdoors, at what came to be called “Festival Glen,” a clearing in the redwoods nestled between the administration building and a set of convenient parking lots. The audience sits on the grass, or on blankets, and picnics before performances. One can get away with such stuff in Santa Cruz, where it rarely rains from May to October. If you want to hold an outdoor summer festival in America and have only one place to stick a pin, Santa Cruz’s Festival Glen, with its redwoods, its view of Monterey Bay, and the always-on sunshine with warm not hot temperatures, has to be one of the best places on the map to put it.

A few points appear clear:

  • Shakespeare Santa Cruz considered itself to be a company in residence at UCSC
  • UCSC made commitments to support Shakespeare Santa Cruz
  • The collaboration has raised the visibility of both UCSC and Shakespeare Santa Cruz
  • Shakespeare Santa Cruz contributed to UCSC theater’s program.

One might say, there has been a long-standing exchange of value between Shakespeare Santa Cruz and UCSC.

Here is how UCSC depicts that relationship now, on the Shakespeare Santa Cruz website (which UCSC now apparently controls):

Shakespeare Santa Cruz closes at the end of the 2013 season after 32 years as a professional repetory [sic] company in residence on the campus of UC Santa Cruz.

But also:

Shakespeare Santa Cruz (SSC) was a program of the UC Santa Cruz Arts Division and presented Shakespeare and other classical [sic] at UCSC from 1981-2013.

It is clear how UCSC might end the collaboration–cease providing financial support, say, and kick Shakespeare Santa Cruz off campus with a “get thee to another Festival Glen, Ophelia!”  But how does it come about that UCSC can “cease production” of Shakespeare Santa Cruz and yet, as we shall see, continue Shakespeare Santa Cruz?  For that, we have to ask what, exactly, was Shakespeare Santa Cruz, and what is it now?

We will take these issues up in Part 2.

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