Wednesday, September 4, 2013

An Open Letter to Chancellor Blumenthal on the ending of Shakespeare Santa Cruz

Dear Chancellor Blumenthal:

I’m writing today to express my sadness about the decision by the University of California to no longer support Shakespeare Santa Cruz. Unlike many, I am not casting blame on Dean Yager for his decision. Given a constrained humanities budget, it is not surprising to me that he would choose classes and students and all the expenses these entail over a summer festival. My own feeling is that this should never have been his private version of Sophie’s Choice to begin with.

Shakespeare Santa Cruz is a jewel in the crown of the UC system. It should never have been the responsibility of a small, not currently “sexy”, department to decide. The arts are the responsibility of all. Somewhere in the very well endowed  UCal system, which we as Californians all do our part in supporting through our taxes, surely there is some money we can use for the benefit, not just of the humanities, but for humanity.

I happened to attend a performance of Henry V during its last week up in the glen. There was an actor’s chat afterwards, and though of course the demise of the company was discussed a bit, what really struck me was when Fred Arsenault, who not only played Henry, but had played the young Harry in previous years, was asked how he felt about the experience. He said, I feel very, very lucky. It is a rare thing to be able to play Harry through his transformation into Henry V. When asked how he played it, he said that he just worked very hard. The thing to remember, he said, is that Shakespeare is smarter than we are. He is ahead of us, and we are trying to catch up.

Perhaps the UC system believes that training an actor like Arsenault, or any of the many of fine actors who have passed through the Festival Glen over the years, is a very small thing in the grand scheme of things. I do not. I am amazed at the glorious good fortune UCSC and Santa Cruz have had through the years to have teachers of the quality of Audrey Stanley and Michael Warren connected to living theatre in this way.

By coincidence, I am currently starting a free course through EdX by the renowned Harvard scholar Gregory Nagy. (The only reason I’m interested in it, by the way, is because of my studies with wonderful UCSC professors like John Lynch and Gary Miles and the above mentioned Stanley and Warren in the distant past.) I was struck by something Nagy said about studying the ancient Greeks:  [Socrates is saying] “…cry if the word dies on us.  But if the word lives, by being constantly re-engaged with, then the vitality of these things that mean more than anything to humans, or should, can go on. And it’s inter-generational. It’s intercultural. And best of all, it’s potentially eternal.”

On these grounds, I respectfully ask that the university system rethink its decision.


Seana Graham


  1. Thanks for this. I was so sorry to learn of the ending of this wonderful theatre.

  2. Yes, unfortunately it was handled in a perfunctory way that only added to the general sense of aggrievement.

  3. I don't know the background to this decision, but it's no surprise. Shakespeare jsut does not make economic sense, does he?

  4. The background is...murky.

    Neither a borrower nor a lender be was some kind of sense, though not necessarily the best.

  5. Seana did you submit this to the editorial page of the local paper? CC it to the UC Regents?

    Even though I only attended one summer with you, I could see the magic made in the Glen every summer and the community's love affair with the festival. It's a crying shame, I'm really sorry.

    I wonder if there's any kind of internet/facebook petition going? I will search right now.

    By the way, beautifully written, as always....

    (I just learned how to say "as always" in Japanese: aikawarazu. It's fun to say...)

  6. I actually emailed it to the chancellor first, and then thought, "like that's going to do a lot of good". I did send it to the editor of the Sentinel, but really just through this BlogSpot form, so it was probably treated as spam. I put it up here mainly as a way I could email it to a few friends in town who are fans. It is unlikely to be read by that many people who have ever been to Shakespeare Santa Cruz, but we do what we can.

    I think there is a big divide now between people who think theatre is important and those who think the world has moved on.

    I'm pretty sure the last laugh will be on them.

    Aikawarazu, Seana

  7. Uh, the latter category. Or, well, maybe everybody.