We were finally able to meet the new intake this afternoon in an hour's induction meeting. It's a big moment both for the students and us as staff. A chance to set out the stall and make clear some of the expectations for the next three years crystal clear.
There's a tension at the heart of University education, made even more apparent by the sharp rise in fees this year. On the one hand students expect something for their money; but not enough research has been done into what exactly that expectation might be. In a consumerist society the temptation is to assume education is a purely transactional arrangement. I give you £8000, you give me a good degree. There are of course other goodies on offer... access to great teaching, social experiences, a safe transition from the childhood home into adult independence. But increasingly the pressure is on the University to deliver the kind of qualifications that will help the graduates to pay back their debt as quickly as possible and begin to construct a decent standard of living for themselves. It troubles me that some students, and indeed institutions, are beginning to equate the new fees with a passive sense of entitlement. It's a fatal mistake.
So at Drama St Mary's we look at the other hand. We're operating in an incredibly competitive industry where only those who invest their time properly will have much chance of success. Drama training is not a place for eighteen year old consumers to browse and make casual decisions over what they want to commit to and what they don't. It's not useful to pay to opt out.
Much of our initial chat today was focused not on selling the experience of being a student, but rather on the basic requirements to be part of Drama St Mary's. We stress the importance of being early to workshops, of taking the initiative to be ready, focused and alive by the time the session starts. We talked about tactics to avoid being ill, hung over, under energised. We explained how impossible it is to rehearse a scene if one member of the cast is late or off sick.
In many University disciplines - particularly in the Arts and Humanities - the focus is on taking time to think, to explore, to extend the deadline in the interest in improved results or more profound discoveries. All this is great, but being a Drama student has more in common with the kind of training taken on by elite sportsmen and women or those serving in the military. In all these cases others are reliant on your ability.
It's early days and there's so much to learn, so much to be excited by. For now though we insist on these two things. Full attendance and immaculate punctuality at all times. With these in place all things are possible. Without them you might as well flush your fees away.
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.