Laurilyn Harris will not retire in Pullman because she would not be able to bear the reminders of Washington State University all around her.

Share story

Laurilyn Harris will not retire in Pullman because she would not be able to bear the reminders of Washington State University all around her.

That’s because she doesn’t want to retire at all. She has worked for the WSU theater department for 36 years, but the department is set to be disbanded in May 2011 because university officials want to save the $350,000 a year it takes to run it.

Harris said that if the theater department had as bad a season as the WSU football team did last year, “We’d be out of here, and we’d know why.”

Instead, department employees are left feeling frustrated.

The likely, though not yet definite, closure of the department is already having an effect on its ability to find actors and crew members for the remaining shows scheduled for this year, said WSU theater professor Terry Converse.

Converse, a professor of 20 years in the department, said the number of students auditioning for this season’s plays was down by a third or more. “Next year it will get even worse,” he said. “There is not the enthusiasm we had.”

Converse will direct “End Days,” which opens April 8.

“‘End Days’ is hysterically funny and, given the doomsday card we’ve been dealt as a department, we need to have a little ‘funny’ in our lives,” Converse writes in the director’s note for the play.

“The irony was entirely deliberate,” Converse said of his choice. “We are in our end days as a theater department.”

Jon Carlson, another WSU theater faculty member who stands to lose his job next year, said students who might want to get involved in the department already are thinking, “Why bother?”

“The same kind of thing is going to happen with students next year,” he said.

Last summer, the university spent $450,000 on upgrades to the R. R. Jones Theatre in Daggy Hall, he said.

“It’s curious. It’s real curious,” Carlson said of the upgrade, which came not long before the theater department had been slated for closure. The university upgraded the lighting in Jones Theatre in 2007.

University officials have not put forth any definite plan for the future uses of the theaters in Daggy Hall, but mention has been made of possibly bringing in outside touring acts.

“The whole building is going to be empty, and I don’t know what they are going to do with it,” Converse said.

Converse, Harris and the other faculty members said they are more confused than angry over the planned closure of the department because the reasoning for the move has never been clearly stated, and they feel their ideas on ways to save the department have been ignored.

“If they wanted to find a way to (keep the department), it wouldn’t take a huge financial commitment,” Carlson said.

Converse said the department came up with a proposal that would have kept the department running at a cost of $170,000 a year until the economy improved, but it was not considered.

“Every idea we have to save it, we hear, ‘Too late, the train has left the station,'” Harris said. “It’s very frustrating when they won’t tell you something specific.”

The theater department will meet with WSU President Elson S. Floyd on April 23.

Information from: The Moscow-Pullman Daily News,