Out of the spotlight

My first semester here at Portland State, I met a lot of people who were disillusioned in my major. They had various gripes that I couldn’t relate to, and I thought I would never have any serious complaints as a transferring junior. I was wrong.

It’s not to say that there aren’t a lot of good points to being a student at PSU, but I have had one event happen this past month that brought me past the point of infuriation and into the mode of action.

To those who don’t know, I am a theater and film double major, and the student organization that represents my interests and holds the purse strings of any allotted funding for student-run productions is called Spotlight. Perhaps you’ve seen them on Orgysync, or perhaps you’ve only heard rumors of them.

And that was acceptable for a little while. I knew there were some bumps in leadership and that the theater major is quite a busy major. However, there has been an inexcusable action against myself by the leadership of Spotlight, and I wouldn’t be writing about it except that it affects you.

Imagine that in this creative expression major, the only place you can take your student-made item and have it showcased for good or for ill and where you can get your name out in both the PSU and greater Portland community, is through Spotlight. That they hold all the power, all the cards and all the chips unless you already know someone who likes your work and has a space to perform it in. And you’re very gracious about Spotlight and very patient to get your work shown because you know you have a lot of growing to do before you have something good enough to produce.

Now, let’s say Spotlight premieres a competition for script writing. The parameters are slightly restrictive, and you have a previous larger body of work that you have to cut down to fit them. And it stings to do so, but you move on because you are eager to have something produced so that you can not only see the final result but participate in the creation and get to a better place in your craft.

Imagine how you feel turning in that application and creative work. About how you toiled and birthed and sweated over each word. Imagine the thrill and hope coursing through you as you wait patiently to hear about the contest.

When the deadline goes by and you don’t hear anything right away, you get a little nervous. And then you are told verbally (no email is sent that confirms this) that the contest deadline has been extended, so you have to wait until the end of the term, and that seems acceptable. The term ends and you come back from break. Still no news. Now, imagine it is the second week of this new term and you casually mention to someone else at the end of a class that you are not frustrated but a little heartbroken because you kind of assume your work wasn’t good enough and that you just haven’t been emailed to be told you didn’t win.

But then imagine that a person from Spotlight overhears this conversation and says that there were not enough entries, so the contest is being scrapped. And you don’t get an email about this new event until many days after that near shouting match (it’s very one-sided in the anger department), but that email is pretty damn unsatisfying. And it has subtexts like: there were some monetary snafus, people just decided that a live script reading would be more passable and do-able, and that the only entrant into the contest—your entry—doesn’t matter.

That is what Spotlight did to me recently. I have waited a little while so I could try and write something measured and impassionate and give myself time to process and cool down. But I find I am still hurt and angry, and I find it unacceptable that the organization I was told was my lifeline and my help into making me better in my craft is at best inept and at worst impotent. Can you imagine my anger and frustration and pain throughout all this and how it never seems to be the fault of the Spotlight board, merely it seems to be an inconvenience that I am angry and pushing the issue? That I cannot “accept” a live script reading open to all because it’s easier and that there is something wrong with me not wanting to see something I birthed and then chipped away at performed lazily at a microphone because one group couldn’t get its act together?

I think if I were 21, I’d have a different attitude toward this story. It wouldn’t hurt so much because I’d be a lot younger than I am now at 29, and I wouldn’t know the cruel tick of time and the march toward obscurity. But as a 29-year-old transfer student, this is one of the few chances I’ll have to do this. Perhaps there are other festivals or competitions, but PSU is my family and community, and it seems unfair that I have no opportunity to present my goods and my craft to this world, my world, because of the inept nature of the group that holds the purse strings.

To Spotlight: You can make this right. You have the opportunity. Take it and honor the original agreement of the contest. No excuses.

To students: Don’t stop fighting for yourself and your rights. I am not taking this lying down. If something like this happens to you, make it known that it is unacceptable to have your voice shuttered because of organizational oversight or inability. Take a chance, be fearless. That is what they tell me that PSU wants and stands for, and now I’m exercising my right to be fearless.