Culture | Squeezed out of McGill

McGill performing artists petition for practice spaces in Royal Vic

Two weeks ago, Sophia Metcalf, a Psychology and Music major, started a petition entitled “Praxis Tactics: Making Space for McGill’s Performing Arts.” The petition Metcalf initiated supports her application requesting that available space in the Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH) building be designed to provide adequately equipped rehearsal rooms. After the University Health Centre’s move to the Glen site last April, the McGill administration in collaboration with the Quebec government have been considering the fate of RVH.

As part of the feasibility study that guides the decision regarding the RVH site, the Principal’s Task Force on the Academic Vision and Mission of the RVH has been accepting proposals and suggestions regarding the use of space to get a representative picture of students’ voices. Metcalf’s initiative, in turn, aims to respond to students’ needs by making sure that new performing arts spaces reflect an interaction of music, dance and theatre. In particular, the petition suggests using the space at RVH to create 18 rehearsal spaces of different sizes, all with large windows, which would be outfitted with upright pianos, plug points, and light dimmers. Metcalf is convinced that her idea to use the space for performing arts “will not go to waste,” as McGill students are “intellectual, driven, and diligent,” and all they need is an incentive to continue growing.

“Ultimately, the goal would be to create an incorporated, collaborative space for the performing arts to flourish here at McGill, and to encourage communication across our many [diverse] communities,” Metcalf told The Daily. She hopes to make it possible for students outside of performing arts to cultivate their talents further and continue growing artistically. “Having space that could be rented by any student, no matter what faculty, […] would change drastically the relationship between McGill and its students, allowing students to keep up with extracurriculars [that] they […] do not have a space for on their own,” she added.

According to the petition, the performing arts community at McGill often has difficulties finding rehearsed spaces on campus, leaving only inconvenient alternatives. “[This includes] praying [that] the English Room isn’t booked, grabbing any free SSMU [Students’ Society of McGill University] room you happen to get your hands on, […] or sometimes even sneaking into the proper rehearsal spaces at Concordia,” Anurag Choudhury, an English major who has been involved in many shows on campus, told The Daily.

Sophie van Bastelaer, the director of Players’ Theatre’s upcoming Dinner production told The Daily, “Trying to find rehearsal space for Dinner […] we […] would trudge to the Sherbrooke 688 [building] in the evenings, competing with hordes of other groups, prowling around the building looking for open, cramped, [and] loud rooms in which to rehearse.”

The university administration says that, although it is “keenly aware of McGill’s space deficit,” long-term planning is what is on the agenda for reconstructuring the RVH site. “The key with RVH is to develop an exciting long-term vision for this new campus that is seen as furthering our academic mission and other strategic priorities,” McGill’s Vice-Principal (Administration, and Finance) Michael Di Grappa told The Daily in an email. Notably, the first phase of the project is estimated to take no less than five to seven years.

In her proposal, Metcalf gives examples of students who had to give up practicing artistic hobbies in their free time because there was no space for them to self-improve. Oscar Lecuyer, an English Department Drama and Theatre representative, told The Daily, “I have heard of countless amazing ambitious projects pitched by my fellow colleagues and peers that have slowly shrivelled and died under the organisational pressure that this lack of spaces is forcing students to undertake.”

Metcalf’s petition aims to collect 500 signatures by tonight. In mid-February, Metcalf will send her proposal and petition to the University. If it approves the proposal, it will then be compared with other suggestions for RVH’s space redistribution. Metcalf is worried, however, that the University’s focus on sciences and research will skew the perspective and result in the RVH space being turned exclusively into labs. “RVH is a huge facility, it could hold fifty groups. I just want to be sure that the performing arts are a part of it,” she said.

Groups such as Seeing Voices Montreal and Players’ Theatre have been very supportive of the project. “There are professors willing to support this initiative as well, so even if you don’t take it from us, take it from them,” added Metcalf.

Metcalf, and all of the students backing her proposal, are convinced that these spaces are an essential interdisciplinary resource to facilitate learning, sharing, and creating. According to van Bastelaer, “Vague citations about money and spatial concerns should no longer be an excuse for the physically and artistically cramped environments McGill performers are told they have no choice but to deal with.”