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Theater courses could get reprieve

Theater-driven students at Rogue Community College will have the chance to prove to the school's administration that there is enough interest in drama classes to keep the courses running.

The school previously had said all theater offerings would be discontinued to help balance next year's budget, but a backlash from students and staff caused it to reconsider, if enough students enroll for fall term.

"I would never underestimate the passion of a student nor the power of the press," said John Cole, a theater instructor at RCC's Riverside campus in Medford. "I also think they thought about it and just realized that it made sense."

Cole said students and staff alike are thrilled with the opportunity to demonstrate the classes are worthwhile and that enrollment will meet the targets.

If a minimum of 20 students enroll in each basic theater course, the campus will continue to offer them, Cole said.

"If everyone who has indicated they support theater takes a class, we'll be in good shape," said Cheryl Markwell, vice-president of instruction at the school, in a press release announcing the plan.

The school is facing a $1.5 million budget deficit for the coming biennium, and hoped that cutting theater and other low-enrollment courses, laying off 10 staff members and raising tuition by $2 per credit hour would be enough to bridge the gap.

But after word spread that theater was on the chopping block, students at Medford's Riverside campus and Grants Pass' Redwood campus began circulating petitions in support of the program.

A handful of students also spoke at an April RCC board meeting, advocating for the program and highlighting the benefits to students that they said couldn't be measured in a budget document.

Now, RCC has said that if enough students enroll, the school will offer Fundamentals of Acting and Improvisational Theater at both the Medford and Grants Pass campuses, although, depending on interest, both classes may not be offered every term.

"We're just psyched and so grateful," said Cole, who is confident student enrollment will meet the college's minimum requirements. "There's always enough interest."

Cole is producing the first play staged in RCC's new black box theater in Medford, a 35-cast musical called "Working" that's set to open Friday.

Before RCC's announcement, Cole and others worried that the first production in the new theater also might have been the last.

While Cole is happy with the school's plan to keep theater going, other advocates of the program are taking a wait-and-see attitude.

"I'm cautiously optimistic," said Burt Eikleberry, a theater advocate who spoke with the RCC board last month about keeping the program alive.

Eikleberry personally researched the revenue generated from theater class tuition over the past year, and urged RCC to reconsider the cut, saying it wasn't as financially helpful as administrators projected.

Eikleberry hopes the reaction from students and community members like himself helped the school realize the importance of the program, but thinks it would be smart to advertise the available courses to attract more students.

"It wouldn't hurt to get the word out," said Eikleberry. "People need to sign up for these classes."

The school still plans to end theater rehearsal and performance classes, but Markwell said they may bring them back if student interest in theater is strong enough.

Eikleberry said the fact that students banded together to help save the program may have been surprising to school administration.

"I don't think they expected the response," said Eikleberry. "I think they were a little surprised at the amount of support from students, and from community members."

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or tristow@mailtribune.com.