The College Players Executive Board
Fourteen years ago, the oldest co-ed student theater company in North America lost its home. The University tore down the historic Gill Theater during the construction and expansion of what is today known as the Kalmanovitz Hall annex. Mourning the loss of the only place they could meet and practice our art, College Players spent one last night in Gill: they slept on the stage, wrote poems on the soon-to-be-destroyed walls, and took final mementos by which to remember the space.
Now, our adopted home, Presentation Theater, is in jeopardy, and our organization is again reeling as we find ourselves without a home base. As other programs around USF reschedule and relocate their events that were planned to take place in Presentation Theater, we and many of our fellow student organizations find ourselves at the bottom of the venue food chain, the runt of the proverbial litter, scrounging for the last locational scraps left behind by the academic programs who take priority over us.
We were founded in 1863 as a place for students of the then-named St. Ignatius Academy to perform and entertain their peers. By the time our school received the name “University of San Francisco,” the College Players were already in our seventh decade of performance. We are an institution of not just USF, but San Francisco as a whole. We predate the entirety of San Francisco State University, USF’s own performing arts department, and nearly every academic program and organization on this campus.
We deserve a home.
For our first 135 years of existence, that was not an issue. But in the past two decades, it seems USF has pivoted to fixate on the lucrative avenues of business and tech degrees and turned its back on its humanities-based Jesuit foundations which raised it. The University’s own mission states that it “will draw from the cultural, intellectual, and economic resources of the San Francisco Bay Area” to build and support its programs. However, in the 20 years since Presentation Theater last received any significant investment, the University has erected the Kalmanovitz building and Lo Schiavo science complex, is now renovating the Harney science labs, and is building the new Innovation Hive.
Before the Bay Area was the global capital of the tech industry, it was a global leader in the arts. It still is, but USF seems to have forgotten. The College Players are far from the only fatality of institutional abandonment, but we refuse to go the way of Gill Theater.
Presentation Theater has always been a venue for students to share their passions, and we are not the only program left reeling by this shutdown. In the last year alone, Presentation played host to Kasamahan, ASUSF Voices, the Human Rights Film Festival, Vitality and Varsity dance group performances, the USF Rock Band, and Greek life philanthropic events, as well as many performers and speakers. Presentation Theater does not just serve our organization and its over 150 members, but serves as a gathering place for students of all backgrounds and vocations.
We speak not only for our current membership, but for the organization’s rich legacy and our alumni as well. As members “then, now, for life,” countless College Players alumni have expressed their ongoing frustration with the university’s mishandling of the arts. Not only are current students and organizations eagerly awaiting USF’s response, but so are the disgruntled alumni whom USF is aiming to court with its newest “Celebrate USF” capital campaign.
This is not the first time USF has shut down our home and, unfortunately, it is likely not the last. Last time we were in this situation, Rachel Spillard, who was on the board in 2005, captured how the organization felt about Gill Theater in verse. In the year 2019, it still rings painfully true:
They always find their way here,
The actors, technicians, the directors, producers and writers,
Those enamored by the magic of theatre,
Those who work and play and love and create by night (when only they seem to stir)
Those who understand the beauty, the value, the absolute necessity
Of a space
This place makes them whole, feeds their desires,
Gives them both life and a place to call home.
It is raw, dynamic, volatile, explosive, consuming.
There is passion in the rafters, determination in the floors,
And the writing on the wall may be
Scripted in our own blood.
Because this is our home, but it is also us.
Our love, our talents, our passion, our frustration.
Our moments of brilliance, and our moments of weakness
We have built this place brick by brick
Through decades of performance
Decades of expression
The truth of this place is that it will never be gone
Because we will never forget
And we have been made immortal
In the imaginations of our audience
And in the hearts of each other.
But not goodbye.”
If you and/or your organization are negatively impacted by the closure of Presentation Theater, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org