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Theater department grapples with tight budget troubles, director’s upcoming spring sabbatical

The question was not whether the show would go on, but just how much money the school would dish out to allow it to go on.

Eastern’s theater program nearly suffered a budget cut and is soon to suffer the absence of director Mark Hallen, who will be going on sabbatical in the spring.

Hallen learned of the recent proposal to remove funds, and he and Teresa Nevola-Moyer, the associate director of Easern’s theater, began to look for additional funds.

“It’s a struggle we’ve had starting with the change of deans this fall,” Hallen said prior to the resolution. “We are having to face it again, even though it’s in the middle of the year and we’ve already made a commitment to staff and students, including a brochure which advertises our season.”

He was concerned that, if the decision had been finalized, there would be no productions this coming spring semester.

“There is not a risk of there not being any theater program,” said dean of arts and sciences, Dr. David Greenhalgh. “It is important to the school and the administration.”

Greenhalgh said that the lack of enough funding for the theater program was seriously discussed this past summer and fall.

“The amount requested was significantly more than the amount in the budget,” Greenhalgh said.

“We felt we had a commitment from the administration to fund the program as we’ve developed it. Apparently, we are $15,000 short even though we did a series of budget cutbacks this fall,” Hallen said.

Greenhalgh said the theater program tried to control spending, and efforts were made to attain more funds for the program.

“There was an amount unresolved, and we went into the school year with the hope of finding more funds and a way to resolve this, but we haven’t found one, unfortunately,” Greenhalgh said.

“The last resort was to have the program cut back in every way,” he added.

He said that Nevola-Moyer went to President David Black to explain the situation. Black, not wanting to see any changes in the content or quality of Eastern’s theater productions, Black agreed to help them find the additional funds they needed so that the program for the upcoming semester would not be cut.

“[Black] recognizes the value of the theater program,” Hallen said.

The theater program in the midst of funding troubles will still have to deal with the absence of Hallen for a semester.

During his sabbatical, Hallen, a free-lance actor and director in addition to his position at Eastern, will be participating in a number of projects in the Philadelphia area, including writing a book about the acting process as it relates to spiritual and personal development.

One of Hallen’s other projects is helping a former Texas prison inmate, Ray Hill, produce a play about his experiences. Hill has a radio program aimed at reaching out to prisoners and their families. Hill visited Eastern this past September and was a guest speaker at one of the performances of The Exonerated.

Hallen is helping Hill shape the story by being both a dramaturge and director. They are also working with a local producer to get the play produced on stage at the 2005 Philadelphia Fringe Festival.

Music performance and composition are also in Hallen’s realm of expertise. He will be doing some of both during his sabbatical.

Hallen plays the harmonica and guitar. Recently, he performed at Eastern’s own Jammin’ Java with some of the musicians he has been playing and recording with lately.

There is no doubt that the theater department will miss Hallen. However, he said that they would be able to carry on well without him.

Hallen came to Eastern 12 years ago and recreated an actor’s lab that he modeled after the program at Wheaton College, where he graduated from with a degree in literature. Hallen said that the actor’s lab is the core of the theater training program there.

“It is a group of people who work together closely and learn from each other,” Hallen said.

“It’s not designed to be run by one person so it should work without me well, and I think it does already.”

Hallen has been assisted by Nevola-Moyer as well as actor Jim Bergwall.

This spring, Bergwall will be taking over the actor’s lab and teaching Hallen’s classes, Acting for the Camera and Acting II.

“I’ve enjoyed getting to know the students,” Bergwall said.

“We will be able to hit the ground running this spring because we already know each other, and I’m looking forward to it,” he said.

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