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…?