How Dance Mums Are Killing UQ’s Oldest Student Society

This story originally appeared in our third edition, published in March.

UQ’s original student society faces financial problems if Union Council doesn’t rule in their favour this month, their members claim.

Along with the UQ Debating Society, Underground Productions was a founding group behind UQ’s student union.

But a century later, the Society is now at odds with the Union over their access to the Schonell Theatre.

Once upon a time, Underground called the Geoffrey Rush Drama Studio their home, but last decade, the University’s drama faculty took control of the space from the hands of the Union. Now the drama faculty can’t (or won’t) compromise on letting third parties use the space.

Being a theatre society, Underground desperately needs a theatre, so the Union offered Underground eight free weeks of rehearsal time in the Schonell Theatre.
That changed last year when the free rehearsal time started to eat into Schonell’s bottom line.

What the Student Politicians Are Saying

Semper spoke with Joshua Roser, last year’s UQ Union Treasurer, about why he made the call.

“The original agreement was made 10-15 years ago, when Underground was the only club that the UQU had affiliated with aims towards drama and the arts,” Mr Roser said.

“Nowadays, there are multiple clubs such as The ARTS UQ that achieve these aims, as well as many clubs such as UQ Law and Med Revue and PSA that use the Schonell Theatre for productions — these clubs were paying commercial rates,” he said.

By the start of this year, the Theatre was being loaned to third parties, with the most interested performers being local dance schools.

“One of the few demographics that have a reason to rent a large theatre space on a regular basis is dance schools,” UQU President Jeremy Lwin explained to Semper.

“Without them staging performances in our venue, it would cost the student body a lot more to keep the Schonell Theatre afloat.

“It’s similar to how local schools will often rent UQ’s sports fields for carnivals,” he said.

The Speech

But in a speech at Union Council’s February meeting, Underground executive Kathryn Good said that the society needs a more sustainable plan, or they risk going bust.

“Underground is not just any society — it is one of the oldest societies at UQ, and an original constituent society of the Union,” Ms Good said.

“Throughout our history we have started the Fryer Library at UQ, contributed to building the Schonell theatre from our own proceeds, advocated for setting up drama studies at UQ, and have produced some of the most illustrious personalities in Queensland theatre, including Geoffrey Rush, Bille Brown, Bryan Nason, Richard Fotheringham, and many more,” she said.

Opposition leader Duncan Hart was vocally in favour of the motion during the debate.
“UQ Union has an important role to play in supporting student culture, and Schonell is a great resource in doing that. It shouldn’t be a question of maximising income,” he told Semper.

UPDATE:

In March, Union Council voted to “provide four one-week slots at the Schonell Theatre at $1500 a week, for Underground. The Union will allocate Underground up to 100 hours a year in alternative rehearsal spaces”.

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