News of the Collegesummer2007

Enhancing Performing Arts: A Q&A with President Diver

Reed magazine editor Mitchell Hartman spoke with President Colin S. Diver about the college's priorities in further developing the performing arts at Reed.

Reed: Some alumni who majored in the performing arts over the years describe music, theatre, and dance as Reed’s poor stepchildren, starved of adequate staffing and facilities. Is that a fair assessment?

Diver: “Poor stepchild” is an overstatement now, though it was probably a pretty fair statement 20 years ago. It is, however, a less well-supported child than the more analytical, text-based, and scientific disciplines. I think of the performing arts in conjunction with the other creative arts—studio art and creative writing—all of which once lagged behind the other disciplines in the degree of funding support and intellectual legitimacy at Reed. They've all reached a stage of unquestioned intellectual legitimacy at this point, even more so than at some comparable institutions. Reed has a tradition of being very text-based and analytical, and yet it has managed to incorporate the creative arts into its definition of the canon. Now we have to bring the support—programmatic, and in terms of facilities—up to the level of the other disciplines.

With the combination of new faculty positions and a new performing arts center, will Reed be able to provide a full-scale undergraduate preparation to launch students in performance careers?

We're not going to pretend that we are a conservatory or a professional dance or theatre program. But I want students to feel they have the same undergraduate grounding in those disciplines that they would get in a biology or a psychology lab, so they can take that to the next level once they graduate.

Reed already has Kaul Auditorium, which seats 750 and regularly hosts chamber music and other performances. Why does Reed need a big new state-of-the-art performing arts facility?

Kaul is quite effective for relatively large concert performances, and it's ideally suited to small instrumental ensembles such as chamber music, a cappella groups, choruses. It is not at all suited to dance or theatre. We are not going to come out of this with a large theatre or dance facility with comparable seating to Kaul. The goal is to create two or three smaller performance spaces. The largest theatre would likely seat 250, and there would be a dance performance space with the appropriate sprung floor. They would all have the appropriate lighting. There's an open question as to whether we need a proscenium theatre. These days, they want stages that project into the audience and are accessible to the audience.

Would a new performing arts center at Reed offer additional cultural resources to the Portland metropolitan area?

I don't see this project as primarily a performing arts program for the benefit of the general public—that's 5 to 10 percent of the project only. This is the equivalent of building a new chemistry building and equipping it and staffing it properly. But Portland is a creative, artistic town, and this fits with Portland's culture. I'd love to see this facility used for visiting artists, dancers, performers, perhaps summer stock theatre.

Is Reed setting its sights on producing more graduates who can go into careers such as choreography, screenwriting, acting, music composition, and performance?

I am not primarily interested in performing arts majors for these facilities. I'm interested in all of our students—whether scientists, humanities majors, or social scientists—having well-supported performing arts. I want students to go out into the world with a sense of agency and confidence, so they can stand in front of an audience and say whatever it is they want to say, participate in a collective enterprise—in the way that you have to when you put on a theatre production. I don't care much whether we produce a bunch of actors or musicians; I want creative lawyers and teachers and social workers and doctors. Performing arts are a wonderful way to build teamwork, interpretive skills, and leadership.