With the possibility of a strike or lockout looming ahead, Theatre UNB is wondering if it will steal their stage.
Although the strike or lockout will have repercussions for all students and classes, for the drama classes at UNB the situation is a bit more complicated.
“It would make things extremely difficult,” said Len Falkenstein, who has been the director of drama and a professor with the English department since 1999.
“We have three productions scheduled, and depending on the timing of the strike or lockout we might lose one, two, or even three of those productions. Most people might think… ‘you can just reschedule the show, right?’ But it’s not that easy.”
Mike Johnston has been the technical director with TUNB since 1997, and co-teaches the drama classes with Falkenstein. As a contract instructor, he is part of a different union agreement from Falkenstein, but may still be impacted by an AUNBT strike lockout.
Johnston explained that drama classes would be particularly affected by the strike or lockout because of the time-sensitive nature of their course.
“There are upfront expenses that we put out on a show, [such as] the cost of materials to build a fence or a costume piece. Obviously there’s rehearsal time, which you simply can’t compress. There’s also the costs of the rights to the play, and those rights are for specific dates. If we purchase them, for, say, the last week of January, we couldn’t easily shuffle the dates that we’ve chosen – so we could lose the money we put out on the royalties,” he said.
Additionally, TUNB’s rehearsal and performance space, Memorial Hall, is heavily booked, and it would be difficult to reschedule any affected performances without interfering with other performances.
“Basically, the student’s course work will become imperilled, and there won’t necessarily be a way of making it up,” said Falkenstein.
TUNB currently has three shows scheduled for this semester. The first opens of Jan. 29, the second is in mid-February, and the third near the end of March.
“One of the things that’s really concerning about this is that the first production we’re doing [that opens on Jan. 29]… is actually part of the city of Fredericton’s FROSTival this year, which is a major winter festival being spearheaded by Fredericton Tourism,” said Falkenstein.
“It’s already being promoted as part of this city-wide festival, and it would obviously not look very good for us to have to pull that show… there would be repercussion for the reputation of the program and for the university, I think.”
Students in the drama program are involved in all aspects of their performances: they act, they collect and make the props and costumes, they create the set, and they advertise.
“That’s a lot of work to go into a show that could eventually get canceled,” said Falkenstein.
In addition to being a loss for students in the courses, the cancelation of one or more TUNB performances is a loss for theatregoers throughout the Fredericton community.
“We are a bit of an alternative to the bigger shows that come into the Playhouse or TNB [Theatre New Brunswick] because in some cases it may not be profitable for them to produce [the shows that we produce]. We can do a show that has a cast of 25 because students are doing it for credit and experience, so we don’t have the cost of hiring the actors for those roles,” said Johnston.
“We’re starting to see our audiences growing, especially this past fall. There seems to have been a bit of a lull in the past 4 or 5 years, not only at UNB, but also at the Playhouse and with TNB to some extent. . . So seeing a growth in our audiences this past fall would indicate to me that maybe we’re offering something that people aren’t seeing somewhere else.”
“It does have an effect for the cultural life of the city as whole,” he said.