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Quite a show 

Anyone who takes the time to read my weekly ramblings knows that I am a literary god. I know all the tricks of the trade—protagonists, antagonists, metaphors, tropes, syllables, topiaries, dirigibles, conclusions—and a few that have nothing whatsoever to do with writing besides. My pen is my sword, unless I’ve just watched The Princess Bride, in which case I dip my sword in ink and use my sword as my pen. It gets messy, and usually I just wind up tearing the paper with the blade, but I figure it’s as close as I’m ever likely to get to a real-life adventure. That’s what I thought, at least, until I read this week’s cover story and realized there’s some throat-slitting potential here in sleepy SLO.

When we talk about feuds, we’re usually thinking about the Montagues and the Capulets spilling blood up and down the streets of Verona, Jim Halpert and Dwight Schrute battling over desk space and office supplies, the Jets and the Sharks snapping and rumbling through faux Broadway streets. But the Performing Arts department of our local community college doesn’t really come to mind.

Mostly, you figure everyone’s too busy hunkering down in survival mode—if you don’t know why you must have missed the hourly dour “the economy sucks” report on radio and television—to waste precious resources throwing flutes or trombones or props or whatever the hell performing arts people throw at each other. Anyway, you’d think they’d be too busy poring over budgets, thinking creatively (as artists have been known to do) about ways to protect their programs.

Of course, the latter task may be particularly difficult given that someone at Cuesta seems to have misplaced the budget. When the head of a department shakes her head quizzically and refers to her department’s budget as “a big research question” it’s safe to say you should start looking for a life preserver. I don’t tend to think of myself as fiscally responsible—I once swapped my car for a handful of what I thought at the time were magic peanuts—but even I’m capable of scratching out my annual income and expenses when the IRS demands it. So the question of why a half dozen administrators can’t, or won’t, produce a simple PDF of how much change is spent on each department at the college is more than a little puzzling. They keep telling the community they’re broke in that way that your deadbeat younger brother tells you he’s broke before he asks for “gas money.” But how do they know if something as simple as one department’s budget is a “big research question?”

So you’d think they’d have their hands full with all that. But you have to hand it to them: Those performing arts foo’s know how to multi-task. Somehow they find time to teach, worry about the budget, and sabotage each other. If you’re feeling a bit lost, let me break it down for you: For whatever reason, the music department has a reputation as being the darling of Cuesta’s Performing Arts Department. They get trips to Europe, while the drama department’s trip to Utah gets canceled because of lack of funding. You mean to tell me you can’t afford to bus a few kids to Utah? I’ve woken up in Mexico completely by accident, so maybe you need a new excuse.

The head of the performing arts department is Jennifer Martin, a faculty member for the music department who seems like she’d be happy to say goodbye to bree valle, who runs the drama program. I’m not a fan of anyone who refuses to capitalize the first letter of her name, but even I’m not scummy enough to take it out on drama students.

Three years ago it all got to be too much and valle filed a grievance against the school alleging her work had been censored and sabotaged.

An arbitrator agreed with valle. Everyone shook hands and promised to play nice, mostly for the sake of the CPAC, a shiny new $25 million performing arts facility. Only Martin and valle don’t seem to get along any better now than they did three years ago. Of course no administrators or faculty will outright admit that drama is, for all intents and purposes, not the kid the department boasts about in the annual Christmas letter, if you catch my drift. But they don’t really need to admit it, not when they’ve got a shiny flier that reads “Performing Arts Presents,” advertising shows at the CPAC. Between Sept. 16 and Dec. 17 they’ve got 17 shows. Logically, the drama department would have a hand in at least a few of those performances, right? Wrong. For whatever reason, the drama department has been left out of the CPAC. And you know who that’s hurting? The students.

Now, there was supposed to be a drama production this fall, but everyone has a slightly different explanation for why it was canceled. I don’t really know who to believe, but I have a proposal for what to do until the music/drama situation is resolved:

You have this slightly boring, but really obnoxious feud and apparently insufficient time, money, and energy to stage an honest-to-god play at your shiny, $25 million performing arts facility. Why not throw all the drama happening offstage into the spotlight? Art imitates life, right? So just go for it. Stop whining about budget cuts; stop passive aggressively thwarting the drama department. Send out a press release that you’re staging a fundraiser for the performing arts department, and just let the accusations fly. Maybe throw in an aggressive snap-off.

Shredder snaps, but never pops. Send crackles to [email protected].

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