When this semester started in August, both students and faculty expected change. However, some changes will leave bigger repercussions than others.
Due to impending budget cuts, the St. Ambrose University Board of Trustees has placed the SAU Theatre Department under evaluation. While many options are currently being explored, one significant idea being discussed is reducing the theatre major at SAU, down to a theatre minor. After a petition started by current SAU senior and theatre major, Erika Seabloom, was shared on Facebook, alumni from near and far were quick to show their support.
Kim Kurtenbach '96, was one alum who instantly went to work on brainstorming solutions. Kurtenbach currently works as a professional actor, casting director, and businesswoman (just to name a few!) who used her connections to try to come up with new ideas. Kurtenbach focused her efforts on fundraising and did so because she credits the SAU Theatre Department for a lot of her success.
"Getting rid of the theatre major at SAU would be a catastrophe," said Kurtenbach. "Theatre teaches you so many transferable skills, and I use many of them in my career every day. Furthermore, getting rid of the major would have a detrimental impact on the entire Quad Cities art community. There are so many theatres and companies that were started by or are now run by SAU alumni which speaks loudly to the importance of our SAU theatre department."
Theatre students, faculty, and alumni gather with Brian Hemesath '94 for an awards ceremony in October 2019.
Seth Kaltwasser '09 is another SAU theatre graduate who used his voice to help save the theatre major. In addition to working freelance as a director, writer, and actor, Kaltwasser currently serves as the Director of Development for St. Croix Festival Theatre, a nonprofit professional theatre company in Wisconsin. He organized an SAU alumni Theatre Facebook page to keep everyone in the loop, and sent a letter of support to the committee to make sure that future generations of Ambrose students have the same opportunities he had.
"It's a real crisis of identity for SAU to eliminate its theatre major," said Kaltwasser. "Generations of Ambrosians have championed the university's stated belief that education's value is tied up in its ability to foster well-rounded, culturally proficient leaders. If St. Ambrose, an institution that likes to market itself as a liberal arts university, allows its most vibrant cultural departments to wither, it will be abandoning its mission and that will be a tragedy."
Daniel Griffin '03 graduated with a theatre minor from SAU and uses the skills he learned here every day in his career. Currently, Griffin works as a prosecutor on court cases across the country as the Assistant Chief for the Department of Justice, Criminal Division, Fraud Section of Cook County, Illinois. However, he valued his time in the Theatre Department so greatly that he personally called the university's president, Joan Lescinski, CSJ, PhD.
"I hope that SAU keeps their Theatre Department," said Griffin. "As an Ambrosian, I care about the development of future Ambrosians. For me, my experiences within the St. Ambrose Theatre Department challenged me. The classes I took were some of my most enjoyable at St. Ambrose. The people I met, the plays I was in, the skills I learned, and the good times I had, I have taken them all with me and they have all shaped the person I am."
Lastly, Father Thom Hennen, current Chaplain, showed his support for our program as well. Fr. Hennen is a 2000 graduate of SAU and despite double majoring in History and Philosophy, still found time to participate in the Theatre Department's offerings. While at first he was conflicted about speaking out due to the fact that he serves as the Campus Chaplain, ultimately he felt it was important that his voice be heard in the decision-making. Therefore, he, too, wrote a letter to the committee speaking about the importance of the major and advocated for all the benefits that the creative arts provide.
"I am a big proponent of the liberal arts in general and the creative arts in particular," said Hennen. "I recognize the financial challenges facing the university, and I do not envy those who have to make those difficult decisions about what to cut. I also trust that those decisions are made with the good of the whole university in mind. I understand that there is no 'mission without a margin.' At the same, there is no margin without an attractive mission, and I do worry that if we give less and less space, time, resources, and support to the arts, our mission to enable students 'to develop intellectually, spiritually, ethically, socially, artistically and physically' will suffer."
In conclusion, the Department was overwhelmed with the amount of love and support that has been shown toward the program over the past couple of weeks. A sincere level of gratitude goes out to Kurtenbach, Kaltwasser, Griffin, Hennen, and everyone who used their voice to advocate for the major.
Ultimately, the Board of Trustees meets this month to decide the future of the program. Until then, let's celebrate the wonderful legacy of the SAU Theatre Department. Its presence has touched the lives of so many wonderful people.