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Performance groups express anger over lack of campus space

Prominent societies on campus have expressed their growing frustration at the sparsity of venues, while select shows have been forced off campus while others have been burdened with high costs.

Photo Credit: Justin Higuchi 

Performance societies have told Nouse of their growing frustration at the dire lack of performance space on campus. Some of York's most prominent student groups, including: the Central Hall Musical Society (CHMS), Dance Society (DanceSoc) and the Technical Theatre Society (TechSoc) have highlighted the significant issues they have faced securing appropriate venues for their performances. the sparsity of appropriate spaces on-campus has drive up costs for student groups on-campus, limited the number of students able to participate in shows, or forced them off-campus for select performances altogether. 

CHMS, for example, has not performed in its namesake Central Hall for several years due to ongoing renovations, the bulk of which have taken place during term time. This has led the society to seek alternative venues for its flagship February show. For the past three years the show has taken place in the Joseph Rowntree Theatre in the north of the city. Not only has the group been forced off-campus, £1,000 of alumni donations was awarded to fund the external hire with YuFund allocation committee noting the limited performance space on-campus despite high demand as the justification for the decision. 

Speaking exclusively to Nouse, a spokesperson for CHMS said of the relocation off-campus that "the lack of facilities has meant we've had to relocate our spring and summer shows. In terms of getting the people of York to come and see our shows this is great, but it really hinders and makes it more difficult for students to come and support other students' work." They added that the lack of space has mainly affected their showcases, with only Central Hall providing the adequate capacity on-campus. 

"CHMS has around 200 members now," they said, "and over the past year we have had between 80-90 people get involved with our showcases. No venues on-campus, bar Central Hall could really cater for this many. Even the Dixon in summer was a squeeze with minimal dressing room space and, due to the lack of seats, we had to pay well over a grand to even house an audience, so even the Dixon isn't the best place to host a performance society anymore." The Dixon is a smaller performance area in Wentworth from which the original seating was recently removed, leading to further costs to provide seating. There are hopes to upgrade the Dixon, which performance societies have been in consultations with YUSU about. 

CHMS said that YUSU has been generally helpful in finding solutions to their requirements. They emphasised the significance of the YuFund in securing an appropriate venue for their February shows, despite the location off-campus. The lack of appropriate spaces for their showcases continues to be a problem, however, which remains unsolved until Central Hall renovations end. It has been alleged by multiple groups that the schedule for Central Hall renovations has favoured corporate clients. DanceSoc, too, has suffered financially due to the lack of performance space. The group has had to pay a fee of over £600 to hire a venue operated by the TFTV Department for just one day of use, even at the discounted rate of 20 per cent off for student groups. Performance societies have said to Nouse that such scenarios are too commonplace with societies facing significant financial strain. 

The lack of space has been described by a spokesperson for TechSoc as "holding back performing arts opportunities for students at York". TechSoc noted that forcing students to use inadequate lecture theatres not only negatively impacts the performances themselves, but also presents logistical issues as "everything has to be moved in and out for every performance" when rooms have to be used for contact hours during the day. They hope that plans to upgrade the Dixon will be accepted by the University to create a longer-term solution which can be shared with other societies. 

Student Activities Officer Finn Judge said: "It's a real shame that performance societies are being pushed out of free, on-campus venues. Student-led entertainment is a real strength of York's, but we're being denied the facilities to keep it on campus. Both YUSU and University commercial services should be alarmed by this. We're getting to the bottom of TFTV's recent dealings with a society. While I understand that events can incur significant costs for venue providers, it's worth remembering that Central Hall came without a price tag for students to use. If we want Campus East to have a real buzz around it, we need an attractive, free solution for all kinds of student performances. I hope the Central Hall renovations are done soon, because the charges these societies are incurring are simply unacceptable. With that said, both CHMS and DanceSoc have shown incredible resilience to overcome these difficulties. They represent the best of mass participation in student activities". 

A spokesperson for the University said: "The University provides space for students, staff and members of the public to use for a wide range of events throughout the year... When we took the decision to close Central Hall to carry out the second phase of refurbishments, we offered all societies that use the space assistance with assessing any other on-campus venues for their suitability as an alternative venue for their events. Central Hall is used by a variety of groups. The works that have or will be carried out on Central Hall are to improve the venue for all of our users and everyone who will visit it during any event. The improvements will benefit students, staff and those outside of the University community." The works on Central Hall are scheduled to be completed and handed over on 17 May 2019. 

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