What do you want out of your Theatre Degree?

I’m half way through reading a Theatre Studies degree. Coming from an academic background, I shocked the majority of my friends and teachers by choosing to pursue something in the arts – to compensate, I insisted upon choosing a University that boasted a 50/50 degree of theory and practice. Now I’m not saying that academics cannot be found within the theatre – quite the opposite: I wanted academia applied to the stage. Unfortunately, I felt (and still do feel) rather underwhelmed. During the open days, I was impressed that the lecturers had PHDs, the facilities were small but versatile, and the curriculum looked set to intrigue and inspire. And yet I found that 6 hours a week just wasn’t cutting it.

I fully agree that University is also a place of self-motivation and exploration, and as such I ventured into the realms of Peter Brook and Gaston Bachelard. Whilst it’s true that I might not have come across these works without having been to University and around the lecturers that I have, I cannot help but feel disappointed that the academic and ‘learning’ I’ve been gaining has been almost entirely off my own back, rather than stemming directly from the classes themselves.

For a taught class, I was required to submit a 2000 word portfolio which consisted of two articles I’d written before, plus a CV and Cover Letter. All useful in this world of unemployment, but lacking some substance – and surely too subjective for accurate assessment? A class that boasted the history of the Stage appeared to be more a chance to read one piece of theory a week – and, possibly most disappointing, the topic of ancient theatre (think Greek and Roman) was only hinted at for one week. I chose to take a self-taught module as one of my options this semester; I delved into 25+ books, wrote a 3000 word academic essay, and discovered more incredible things about dramaturgy than I thought possible – ‘dramaturgy’ being a word I came across outside of the course structure, again. At this time of arts cuts, the battle to keep drama in the EBacc syllabus, and the constant tug of war between arts institutions and funding, those seeking an education in performance before heading into the big wide world should surely find themselves in an oracle of learning, building experience and a vast knowledge in order to head out armed to the teeth with creative ideas and intelligent thinking. Unfortunately, the closer I get to graduation, the more anxious I am about the future.

The majority of the opportunities and experiences I’ve had whilst at university have come from my own initiative and tendency to get bored easily with free time – I’ve set up a theatre company, I edit the Arts section of the student paper, and I regularly take up the one-day job offers that find themselves in our email in boxes, as well as having a part-time job, and maintaining rock climbing and rowing training. Whilst the lack of course content allows me the freedom to put as many strings in my bow as I can fit into a 24 hour day, it still leaves me with a sense of frustration, not to mention a keen sense of loss at £3,500 a year. I’ve made plans for an MA once I leave, but can’t help but feel I could start it tomorrow given half the chance.

So here is the question I pose to you – what do you want out of your Theatre Degree? Or what did you want, and what did you get? Or should I really just stop complaining…?

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3 thoughts on “What do you want out of your Theatre Degree?

  1. Theatre courses across the UK are rated quite poorly by their students. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that many theatre students share your disappointments.

    It’s not just theatre students either. Although engineering students get considerably more teaching hours than arts students, I came to university with an expectation and a hope that really putting my back into my degree would mean a university life that was absolutely saturated with engineering and science. I fantacised about getting to do work for a post-doc reseach team and working on satellite systems until early in the morning.

    Being three weeks from the end of my degree, I still don’t think those things are unreasonable. The given rationale for fewer teaching hours in the arts – that you need more time to cogitate and really get to grips with your subjects – doesn’t hold water in my mind. Whether you are an arts or engineering students, the majority of academics see a first degree more and more as something that any old waster can do and see first degree students as not worth the investment. That’s something that has been personally intimated to me by lecturers.

    I don’t resent the fact that more students are coming to university, but I do resent the fact that students who want to learn more and explore their subject are not helped to do so *by*default*. To me that destroys the point of having more university students – that all those people get exposure to advanced thinking in their subject and practice critical thought.

  2. Hi Tiffany, great to find your blog. I am the Youth and Education Coordinator at Pavilion Dance South West and our placement student, Heidi, passed on the link to this post.

    It’s really interesting to read your thoughts. My degree is in English Literature, and I too found that the modules where I was essentially given more freedom to look into whatever interested me were the ones where I learnt considerably more. Again, slightly disappointing considering how much I paid for tuition.

    Obviously, following a career in the performing arts, my time at university was actually filled with a lot more than just my degree (much like yourself) and I actually found that most of the skills I needed to pursue my dream were only found outside of my course. Being a hip hop dancer, I’m happy that the university I went to had a big enough extra curricular dance scene to support this, as I could have never taken a degree in dance, being only from an urban dance background.

    But on the other hand, hearing things like “You have to write completely differently in this module, but we’re not going to tell you how” from our lecturers was really frustrating. I thought I’d opted for a degree in English Literature, not telepathy.

    I would be really interested to hear more of your thoughts on arts education. Myself and Heidi have started a debate over at PDSW, beginning with a paper I have written on the importance of Dance in Education. You can read this at http://www.pdsw.org.uk/news/news-detail/every-child-matters-still/

    Soon the debate will be joined by a paper Heidi has written on A-Level subjects and University Degrees, and we’d really love to hear your thoughts. Please drop me a line at gemma@pdsw.org.uk if you’d like to join the debate.

    All the best,

    Gemma

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