‘It’s such a huge loss for Alaska’: Students mourn as theatre program is eliminated at UAA

Published: Jun. 7, 2020 at 6:09 PM AKDT
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were eliminated across the University of Alaska system on Friday by the Board of Regents. Among those cut, was the theatre program at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

“I think joining the theatre has been the best thing I have ever done,” said Morrigan Kellen, 22, who is in her senior year and focusing on performance.

After appearing in “Romeo and Juliet” in an ensemble role, Kellen took on the lead character of Leah in “That Long Damn Dark” in 2019.

Kaeli Meno, who graduated earlier in the year, directed the play as her undergraduate thesis. “It was a great experience to have,” she said.

Meno isn’t sure what she’ll do next or where she’ll go professionally. For many UAA theatre students, hands-on experience makes that leap into the jobs market easier.

Chase Knutson, a senior who is focusing on set design, works at the Glenn Massey Theatre in Wasilla. He also builds sets for school productions. “I’ll definitely have some busy days but yeah, it’s all super fun,” Knutson said.

According to

presented at Friday’s Board of Regents’ meetings, there were 62 students taking theatre as a major in 2019 with 11 students graduating. Cutting the program is slated to save close to $450,000 per year.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the Board of Regents signed an agreement in 2019 to see $70 million reduced from the university’s budget over three years. The theatre program was eliminated as a way to reduce spending by $25 million in the fiscal year starting on July 1.

The students say the numbers don’t tell the story.

The department is described as a tight-knit family that teaches practical skills. “You learn how to build things, you learn designing, you learn architecture, you learn creative writing and drawing,” said Knutson. “It’s such a huge loss for Alaska.”

Students also fear what it means for Alaska’s arts scene and how Alaskans tell their stories.

“We are going to lose a big chunk of theatre in Alaska which is already so limited,” said Kellen.

Cutting the UAA theatre degree also means there will be no dedicated theatre program across Alaska. Students interested in studying theatre would need to go Outside.

For theatre companies across the state, eliminating the program means losing a wellspring of talent.

“Right now, the majority of leaders of theatrical organizations and other arts related groups are former students or graduates of that program,” said Frank Delaney, the managing director of the Perseverance Theatre in Juneau. “And that’s across the state.”

Delaney, a graduate of the UAA theatre department himself, says the Perseverance Theatre regularly takes on UAA students as interns. When shows come to Anchorage, local UAA actors often take on roles.

Preliminary discussions are ongoing that could see a relationship deepen between the Perseverance Theatre and UAA in terms of more workshops for students, Delaney said.

While the program was eliminated on Friday, it won’t disappear immediately. There is a “teach out” plan that should see current students able to finish their degrees.

Blake Blanning, a sophomore at the UAA theatre department, said he’ll continue studying but he’s concerned for those who would have wanted to study in Anchorage. “I have absolutely loved it, I have found so many great people, mentors, friends and people who have accepted me,” Blanning said.

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