Budget trouble for CSUN’s Department of Theatre


William Franco Espinosa

CSUN’s Department of Theatre displays their “Hamlet” performance on campus on Oct. 3, 2022, at CSUN in Northridge, Calif.

Natalie Lopez, Reporter

The theater department at CSUN has faced many economic challenges, ranging from a limited budget to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, they have utilized their resources and willpower to produce eight plays in the school year.

The department allocates a specific budget that covers costs within the department and typically remains the same throughout the school year.

The CSUN Department of Theatre mounts eight plays in the school year. The budget funds the musicals and plays performed at the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts, such as “Into the Woods” and “The Tenth Muse.”

The budget provides the department with the finances to purchase supplies and the necessary equipment to produce the projects.

“Obtaining rights for the plays is a huge expense because we are selling tickets, so we sometimes pay $800 to $7000 for rights. Wherever we don’t sell tickets, we take a huge hit,” administrative analyst for the theater department Alicia Lawrence said.

According to Lawrence, the theater department has budgeted $78,000 for the eight plays, but current estimates project the cost at roughly $170,000. Inflation has also impacted this year’s budget allocation, as the equipment cost has increased exponentially due to shipping and production costs.

The decrease in this year’s budget has also strained the department’s finances, as it aims to pay more than $49,000 compared to the previous year.

“It is very expensive to do theater, and we are trying to be as frugal as possible because of the budget restraints,” Lawrence said.

The department receives funding from several different sources, according to Lawrence. State funding, donations from alumni, and campus funding all help support the cost of the plays.

Campus funds come from the Instructionally Related Activities grants, funded through student fees. According to CSUN’s Division of Student Affairs website, the university takes $19 from each student to fund courses and department-related projects each semester.

The theater department receives five IRA grants annually that cover operas, musicals, plays, technology, guest speakers, and travel expenses for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. The department was forced to re-imagine its theater productions through the pandemic, which increased its expenses. For this specific circumstance, the department received a one-time fund from the Higher Education Emergency Relief fund.

According to the department chair, the five IRA funds decreased this year due to budget cuts. This has led to a huge stress on ticket sale revenue for the productions, as the theater department now relies on ticket sales to supplement the noticeable loss of funds. The budgetary constraints continue to be felt, as the effects of the pandemic are still noticeable during the 2022-2023 school year because the annual IRA funding for this year has decreased.

Moreover, the IRA fund was created for the arts program but has since been awarded to every department across the entire campus, due to the financial cost to fund academic programs and courses offered within different departments. This has led to decreased funds within the theater department.

“Now that it is campuswide, and anybody all over campus can request the money — that means that the pie is bigger, but the slices of the pie are smaller,” Lawrence commented in response to the decrease in IRA funding for the 2022-2023 school year.

Box office receipts are an essential source of funds that support the plays and musicals, because they provide the department with a large percentage of its budget for the following year.

During the pandemic, the theater department livestreamed plays. This increased their expenditures, as they were forced to purchase green screens, costumes and makeup kits for every person. The loss of potential ticket sales during the pandemic also negatively impacted their budget. As a result, the 2022-2023 school year’s productions will aid in recuperating these funds.

Chair of the CSUN Theatre Department Ah-Jeong Kim said that the department was working hard to bring back audiences to rebuild budgets for the plays.

“The ticket revenue dwindled during the 2 1/2 of the COVID-19 pandemic, or even prior to that due to the wildfires,” she said. “Luckily, the fall 2022 season started strong with the production of ‘Hamlet’ [being] sold out!”