The exam board today and so finally the grades for another year have been agreed and signed off. There are a few resits to get through, but overall the students seem to have done really well and all is set for a happy graduation in July.
There is a small, but noticeable gap developing between the quality of the written work coming through and the practical. Over the last four years we've shifted the focus of the Drama programmes to provide as much training as possible. Half of the modules on the programmes carry are assessed solely through practical work and from September this bias will be even more pronounced as the curriculum shifts further to two-thirds practical, one third lecture/seminar. No University in the country offers as much workshop/ rehearsal contact time to their students. We're breathing down the necks of the Drama Schools.
The result of this is that graduates are now coming out with more sophisticated performance skills and we are beginning to have some real success in sending our students out into the profession. The downside however is that if we relegate the importance of the formal academic work, so students increasingly seem to treat the art of assignment writing as an irrelevance or irritating adjunct to the main thrust of their work.
The temptation is to look for ways of phasing academic assignments out all together and look for assessment tasks that more accurately reflect the way in which we're asking students to prepare as actors. What the shape of these assignments would be is still anybodies guess. I dread the insistence of log books and and the kind of reflective writing favoured at sixth form, which encourages students to seek out flaws in their technique in an attempt to shape an alternative approach. Unfortunately acting isn't so formulaic. Each actor is constrained, even after training, by their body and voice. A more useful research might be linked to a historical or social understanding of the world of the play or text being looked at in the rehearsal room.
However, it must surely still be useful for actors to know a little about the way in which Dramatic literature has evolved over time or the way European practitioners have influenced taste and culture in the UK? And these things take some effort to read and understand. The idea that actors just rely on their instinct and 'talent' all seems a bit X-factor dodgy to me.
My feeling is that good academic writing is possible, and should be positively encouraged, within the current curriculum. We don't particularly want to produce a new generation of cultural critics, who can deconstruct everything, but struggle to create anything, but it's clear that the best actors are the ones who do their homework and are able to articulate their complex ideas clearly.
Until we can find a way to link what goes on in the library to what goes on in rehearsal, we're going to struggle with students who see academic research simply as the tedious means to the end result of passing a degree. The possibilities are so much greater.
Mark is the Academic Director of the Drama Programmes at St Mary's University in Twickenham. He has worked internationally as a theatre director and educator for the past 15 years, focused mostly on youth, community, and conflict resolution work.
As a lecturer Mark taught at Goldsmiths College, Coventry University and was Head of Performing Arts at Canterbury College prior to joining St Mary’s in 2006.
His Professional directing credits include Henry V (One of US?) and Valhalla for RSC Education; The Wind in the Willows, Jack Cade, The Red, Red Robin for Sevenoaks Playhouse; Tender Souls, The Quality of Mercy and Playhouse Creatures for the Ambassadors Theatre group.
Mark is a director of subVERSE Theatre company for whom has directed fringe premieres of Chief, Dinnertime and OxfamC**t at Theatre 503.
Site specific work includes Purka and Shadow on Icelandic volcanoes and Novocento with students from the University of Genoa.