International Writers Magazine: Comment
Mouse? Let me at him!
Drama degrees and social stigma
January 2006. It's wet outside. The sky is grey and depressing.
Or so Ive been told. You see, I havent been outside
for what feels like a lifetime. At least, if I have, then I havent
noticed. As a final year student studying for my Bachelors degree,
the mound of books with corners turned down - opened, closed,
fat, thin, old, new, paperback, hardback, worn, underlined, thumbed,
useful, useless - has increasingly grown on and over my desk and
the accompanying (and now overflowing) bookshelves.
act merely as additional provisions for light under which to run
fingers along the veritable dead forest of pages containing oh, so many
words. Its all becoming a blur.
Sound familiar perhaps? If so, then dont bother reading the rest
of this article and do something useful like picking up that book just
to your left. (No, not that one; thats useless. The other one.
But does the above sound fantastical and perhaps an over sentimentalised
cliche? For those who believe degree courses are easy ways to avoid
full time paid employment, then I would urge you to take five minutes
out of that hectic routine and read the following. A friend of a friend
recently accused me of being lazy, and countless numbers of my peers
have all at some stage complained that some associates demean them for
always being in debt without a full-time job. Now, this of course gets
more complicated when you are a student of Creative Arts or drama;
lovingly termed a mickey mouse degree by a friend of mine.
This designation immediately conjures up within the ignorant cynic an
image of laziness. A brief toe-dipping degree into the world of drama,
thespians, and play-acting. What are you possibly going to read about
drama? Its only acting. And anyone can write, its only a
matter of being creative. Why not do a real degree, if you must; like
Biology or History? Well for starters half my family are already hypochondriacs
so biology would simply serve to complicate things, and as for History
its as speculative a subject as, say, English Literature
(the other half of my degree.)
The last paragraph, you may have noted contained a handy little phrase
which I believe lies at the heart of the stigma attached to all forms
of study related to drama and the performing arts: its only a
matter of being creative. Indeed it is.
But from where may your inspiration come? In writing a journal article,
how do you structure arguments, remain objective, learn to see both
sides? In plotting a play, is it going to be naturalistic, didactic,
surrealist, absurdist, gothic, post-modern? What qualifies these terms?
Will it be more Stanislavski or Brecht? How about the theory through
practice of Mamet? Surely his technique of abandoning technique could
prove problematic? Then of course, theres Grotowski or Artaud?
Checkov and Brook? Youre going to perform it promenade are you? Why?
Is this to make a statement or you just felt like it?
Youre writing a musical are you? Great. Integrated? Revue? Which
tradition does it fit in? Who is your inspiration? Why? Whats
your intention in having the lead character die? How will the audience
react to this? Why do they laugh where you never intended? Be sure not
to internalise the action; lets not have that fourth wall there, the
audience wont like it. Its all to do with cultural conditioning,
expectation and social acceptability. Thats why Jerry Springer
was so controversial; and its operatic structure surely signals cynicism
and a sure fire comment about class.
All of the above and more have been questions I have either asked, had
to answer, or heard my colleagues discussing in the past three years
of studying for a combined degree in Creative Arts. Note that the other
half of my degree mentioned above is English Literature; and for any
hardened readers who are sceptical that this article may simply be written
as a grudge manifesto, then I hope the academic respectability of studying
great literary heritage will satiate your distrust.
As for anyone reading this who is somewhat shell-shocked by the above
cavalcade of imponderables, I urge you to review your perception of
the dramatic arts and related academic study. Where History students
have a three hour exam and an essay; drama students have an essay, and
a creative/critical/theoretical journal kept throughout the (well over)
100+ hours spent devising, rehearsing and producing of a performance.
Oh, and this of course also includes the act of getting up in front
of anywhere between fifty and five-hundred people and actually performing
the thing. We dont sit exams with a pen, paper and silent hall.
We act exams with spotlight, sweat and an audience. Of course, for me,
and countless others sat in their rooms, studying whichever degree they
chose - most are now worrying about the 10,000 word dissertation, due
for submission in a few months time after weeks of gruelling, independent,
self disciplined and detailed research; and that includes drama students
studying Mickey Mouse.
Its wet outside - apparently.
© Ben Macpherson Sept 2006
Ben graduated with
a First from the University of Portsmouth this year.
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