In the center of the Brucennial Gallery Exhibit downtown on Bleecker Street, stacks of hay bales set the stage for Bruce High Quality Foundation’s production of “Animal Farm- the Musical“, which premiered the first weekend in March. In this Orwellian adaptation, the chicken trustees at BHQF University, reveal the financial crisis facing the school and decide they must “hatch a new strategic plan. Everything must be ‘on the table.’”
One hen trustee of the equity firm ‘Beak and Claw, ’ suggests they “ Diversify our debt, prioritize our portfolio, reassess our risk…No risk. No reward.” Another wants to clean up the pig stye, and create a 21st century institution. “What we need is a Goddam state of the art architectural monstrosity.”
These options don’t pan out. “ The economy has collapsed. ..No one could have seen this coming. No one should be blamed,” the trustees cluck.
Throughout the play, the chickens trustees switch their beaks to snouts and transform into recent piggie art student alum, while Law and Order sound effects signal scene changes. The piggies struggle making ends meet with their day jobs and finding time to pursue their passions : (“ We’ve got art to make, but we’re stuck working every stinking day.” ) They are reminded and inspired by these truths expressed in song: ”Every pig is an artist/ No pig flies alone/ Teaching others is our greatest work/We can do it on our own”
While BHQFU takes the route of implementing tuition to solve its financial woes and turns into BITE-U, run by the big bad wolves, the Piggies decide to start their own free school: PORK-U, Pigs Organized Round Kuntz. (“Starts with a P, and ends in Germany.”)
They invite the audience to join them: “Come on inside, it’s alright, you can know you know, we only want to free your mind.”
It is clear that BHQFU in this play represents the current situation at Cooper Union. The goddam state of the art architectural monstrosity, refers to the shiny U.S. Green Building LEED Certified, New Academic Building at 41 Cooper Square. Cooper Union’s capital campaign to fund the construction of this new building did not achieve its goal. A $175 million loan was taken out from Metropolitan Life and mortgaged against the Chrysler building. Cooper Union’s investment portfolio was not immune to the recent economic downturn, either. To address the current deficit, implementing tuition at this historically tuition-free school is one of the options “on the table.”
The performance ended with some words from one of the artists,who directed people to the Free Cooper Union “Money On the Table ” pledge website where you can put money on the table to keep tuition off the table. “We’re not always so good at activism here,” he said “but this sh*t is really really important.”