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DPAC space important to students, public

Marty Schroeder | Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The opening of the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center (DPAC) two years ago marked one of the most significant additions to Notre Dame’s campus. Brand new mainstage and blackbox theaters, a beautiful concert hall, an ornate organ room and a state of the art cinema brought new spaces for performance and academic ventures. Money was poured into the construction, and from the THX certification on the cinema to the organ made in Germany, it would seem no expense was spared in the multi-million dollar building.

But, how many students really make use of the performances that would never come to South Bend, Ind. if it were not for the DPAC? Are the acts brought in of any interest to students here? If not, should they be?

These questions are very pertinent to the success of the DPAC, the betterment of Notre Dame’s students and the continued focus on the arts here within the Notre Dame and South Bend communities. Should the DPAC be doing more to find shows that cater to the needs of the students, or should it focus more on being the premier arts venue in the northern Indiana/Chicago area?

From looking at the performers and groups that are being brought in, it would seem the focus is more on the DPAC being a premier arts venue than a place for acts recognizable to the student body. Now, I am not calling for the Rolling Stones to play in the DPAC – the building was obviously not built for performances of that style.

However, when the number of South Bend residents in any audience outnumbers the number of students even with the huge break in ticket price students receive, a problematic situation arises. Some students say it is too far away, others maintain tickets are too expensive, but I would argue the acts don’t receive enough press when they come in and are not recognizable enough to students to justify paying the price.

When the student-run production “The Show” rolls around each fall, there is a noticeable buzz within the student body over who is going to be playing. The acts that do get picked are usually bands or performers well known to most college students. Guster, the Black Eyed Peas and Jason Mraz, to name a few past performers, are bands students are willing to fork over money to go see. Most students aren’t going to shell out $15 to see Mark O’Connor’s Fiddle Celebration. This is not to say he and the others playing with him are not talented – I am sure they are, or else they would not at the DPAC. What I am saying is that O’Connor is not a name students have heard of or, if they have, it is a small number of students and does not represent a dependable, constituent audience for the DPAC. The University is spending money to bring in acts that are not drawing consistent student audiences. This is a definite problem.

Now, not everything the DPAC brings to campus is in this vein. Whenever master Irish musicians The Chieftains come to Notre Dame, tickets sell out very quickly from the student body and the public alike.

The Browning Cinema has also instituted the PAC Classic 100, which is a series of 100 films that a committee of professors and DPAC personnel decided to show. They are in the original 35mm format, but more importantly, they are movies people have heard of. Students can pay just $3 to see popular and important films like “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Citizen Kane.” Recognizable films presented to students in their original format at a very reasonable price is something great.

However, the Browning still brings in movies that cater to a more art house/film nerd crowd such as “The Philadelphia Story” and “An American in Paris.” The cinema shows foreign and experimental films few have heard of. As such, the DPAC should also be able to bring in niche performers who play a rare, largely unknown instrument. There are more than enough days in a year to allow for this type of scheduling.

However, it must be remembered that the DPAC is a regularly operating business. Acts that put bodies in the seats should be the priority, and from where many students are sitting, that does not seem to be the case. It is a sad day when students decide not to see amazing performances by amazing performers in an amazing building.

Should this be the case? Not at all. This column is not about bashing the acts the DPAC brings in. This column is about questioning the decisions the DPAC has made in its programming. When Legends is able to bring in bands students enjoy (many times for free) and SUB can sell out the Stepan Center by bringing in Ben Folds, the question must be asked why the DPAC can’t do the same thing.

The DPAC is a Notre Dame building built with funds from Notre Dame alumni and designed to house a department within the Notre Dame academic community (the Film, Television and Theatre Department). Departmental performances from the FTT, Music and other departments are often performed in the DPAC.

More focus on academics is needed. The basement contains classrooms, a rehearsal hall, editing studios, a costume shop and recording studios all constructed with student use in mind. Granted, the building was not built to be a music and/or acting conservatory. However, the general feeling of disassociation from the DPAC by the general student body is an issue that needs to be addressed.

Perhaps the administration and the executive side of the DPAC believe the building should focus more on the region and garner prestige for the University in the wider community. But in the process, Notre Dame has seemingly ignored what its students want – or at least placed that factor on a lower rung of importance.

In order to make the DPAC the vibrant building it deserves to be, programming focused more on student wants and needs has to be placed on the agenda and performed for all to see. Otherwise, the DPAC will languish on the far end of the campus as a tribute to great hopes and aspirations, but nothing more. Don’t kick out South Bend, but let’s bring Notre Dame back in.

Contact Marty Schroeder at mschroe1@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.