Saturday, 9 April 2016

Can you learn German without ever speaking it?

...or learn how to play tennis without ever picking up a racket? Or maybe our next generation of scientists don't have to complete actual experiments in class in order to understand how materials work?....

Certainly this would seem to be the case if we are to follow the latest changes by examination boards OCR and AQA on GCSE Drama, whereby students do not have to visit the theatre in order to study the subject.

Of course my suggestions above are absolutely rubbish, and I am sure if you were to put the above argument to them, they would say that you are being ridiculous...but then so is their ludicrous assertion that drama students don't HAVE to see live theatre in order to study it.


Ask any one in our industry why they do the job do and 99% of them will say it is because they were inspired by a live performance they saw - quite possibly during their teenage years when one is forming one's views of the world and where one sits in it.

I know that all the live theatre performances I saw impacted on me - in fact the first was the Sooty Show, and though I cried all the way through it and my parents had to take me out because I was disturbed by the number of people in one place, and seeing what I had grown used to on TV was suddenly real, I was affected by the experience. Now though that might suggest a negative first experience, it actually bears out the collective nature of live theatre - what I probably wasn't able to understand was how all 400 people were there for one collective experience.

Years later I went to the RSC (just down the road from home) to The Taming of the Shrew and found it one of the driest and longest experiences of life up to that point...but then two years later I went again to see the same play and the experience could not have been more different - I was on the edge of my seat, laughing my head off and engaged with every moment on stage. I was intrigued as to how the same words and story could be so different and require such a different emotional and cerebral reaction from me. Only live theatre can do this.

The variety of theatre I was taken to see whilst at school was huge - we went locally in Worcester (when it had a rep company) as well as to Manchester, London, Stratford, Tewkesbury, Bromsgove, Ludlow, Kidderminster - some very small theatres with only studio spaces - but the range of theatre I was exposed to was amazing, and informed my understanding of it, of me and the world around me.

...and going to the theatre is what inspired me to be part of this industry - I remember thinking what power those on stage had over us watching - they effected us - made me think differently, made me laugh and cry - and I thought, I want to be able to do that - it was so empowering...and it's not just what happens on stage - I remember how magical the theatre buildings were - the history of the place; like churches, theatres have seen so many lives and stories played out - again, a collective experience which is not the same as a sanitised cinema.

Part of learning about theatre and drama is therefore the act of theatre-going - which is a commitment. At home we can pause tv or a film, make a cup of tea, if we get bored we can turn it off - the same happens in the cinema - people chat and move about. Theatre-going demands a commitment, an agreement that you enter into with the performers, stage management teams and your fellow audience members to make the experience happen. Already we in the theatre business have to deal mobile phones, photographs and talking, how much harder is it going to be when young people have not learnt 'how' to watch theatre if they have never been?

I have only seen one cinema-screened theatre performance, and I have to say, that although I was impressed by the quality of the filming, I was left cold by the experience of it. I do appreciate that live screenings can allow people to see performances that they might not be able to see because they sell out or because they live in a remote part of the country, or indeed to see a London show if you live in Dundee is going to cost a fortunate in associated spending, BUT they should not replace the live experience...and that is what this new legislation promotes. The previous examination guidelines said that students had to see 'at least one' live performance - one!!! Surely during 24 months of a course it is possible to arrange to see one live performance?

Drama has battled for years to be taken seriously as a subject at school and just when it is, this new ruling is in danger of undermining it. It certainly doesn't help when the Education Secretary says things like "Arts subjects limit career choices" - argh!!!!!

As Rachel Tackley from ETT says in the first article above, theatre companies are constantly bending over backwards to encourage young people into theatres and to see theatre. In our own experience at GSC, we are committed to nurturing the audiences of tomorrow, but in order to provide cheaper tickets to attract them, budgets are effected and great consideration has to be made about how many tickets you can make available - especially hard when those companies (like GSC) are not subsidised or commerical.

The impact that this decision has for Drama GCSE will not just have a longer term impact on the child - that you don't need to go to the theatre (just like you don't need to read the book, just watch the film) - but also from a funding and investment point of view. One of the reasons funding is made available to theatre companies, or businesses want to invest in the work they do, is to engage more with young people. If the message is that these young people don't have to go then surely this finance will be deemed unnecessary.

Of course there are extenuating circumstances where young people cannot get to live theatre, and indeed I know from experience that teachers find it hard to organise trips to the theatre because there are nowadays so much paperwork and red tape about organising such a trip, but what is worrying is that this is a small step, which if left unchecked as modern technology advances, could be detrimental to the future of our industry and people's view of it.

Anyway, I'll get off my soapbox now...yesterday's walk was very nice thank you very much and I even made some new friends on the way!!

One bit of fabulous news this week was the discovery of another First Folio in a library on the Isle of Bute.

With only 230 copies in existence (it is assumed), and this being the second in 2 years to be rediscovered, it is really exciting to think what else might be discovered. 

Writing my lecture for 20 April on Will's will, it is clear that we actually know a lot about Shakespeare from legal and business documents, but of course it is his personal feelings and thoughts that we know so little about. There are no letters or journals we know of and he rarely appears in the papers of others, which cannot help but lead us to the conclusion that William was an intensely private man - and though we must not see this lack of personal information from a 21st Century point of view where we keep diaries, write blogs (!), tweet and make public all our thoughts - it would certainly suggest (until more evidence is found) that he did indeed keep his cards close to his chest...which perhaps is not such a strange thing after all. 

"Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgement...
This above all: to thine ownself be true"

Polonius to his son Laertes (Hamlet)

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