What are we teaching about theatre? Why??

Joslin McKinney, 5 October 2012

The group discussing this question included:
Alex Kelly, Alison Andrews, Henry Raby from NAYT in York, Rachel Walton, Peter Gray, Joslin McKinney and Joanna (Loveday?)

Are we teaching towards a job in the theatre? Yes - but in very different ways, which include:

Drama schools and accredited courses such as Dark Horse aim to develop in their students a ‘toolkit’ of professional skills in the craft of acting

Universities are more likely to be using theatre-making as a way of thinking, focusing on asking the ‘right’ questions (Rachel) and not teaching performamnce skills. The shifting (volatile?) picture in terms of the contemporary theatre scene and divergent forms of practice make it hard to identify what core professional skills might be in this context and so the apporoach tends to be on helping students ‘find their place’ (as artists, makers, facilitators, producers etc.) and in understanding what those various ‘places’ to work form might be. Joanna's own HE experience left her feeling poorly prepared for finding work in the theatre/cultural sector. However in recent years several of us in HE felt that notions of ‘employability’ have been moved up the agenda and given new urgency with the advent of high fees. However, what constitutes ‘employability’ is also diverse. Broadly, ‘employability’ covers a whole range of aptitudes including specialist ‘professional’ skills and a whole range of transferable higher level skills in research, communication, collaborative working. Other important attributes we came up were flexibility and resilience.

We also discussed how theatre can be a vehicle for much broader kinds of learning and understanding. Alison called it a ‘sticky’ subject which can adhere to other areas such as art, culture, philosophy, ethics. This aspect is represented in several HE institutions (particularly research intensive Universities).

At GCSE there is an emphasis on performing and was seen in part as a route to drama school (Peter) as well as an interesting subject in its own right. The GCSE syllabus has shifted towards students creating their own devised work (Peter) yet Rachel has noticed that students often mistake ‘improvisation’ for ‘devising’. Alex was concerned that at school level students should understand that theatre is not just ‘performing in plays’.

Is there enough emphasis at school-level on the broader cultural and creative contexts of theatre as a cultural form?

A key question we identified was ‘Are we teaching theatre as it exists or anticipating the future?’

We discussed the value of understanding historical forms (and I would add in writing the report diverse cultural forms) so that students see that theatre always arises from a specific cultural, social, political, economic context.

A concern about how technology was shifting the nature of live theatre was debated without the group arriving at any agreed conclusions. Some felt technology was a threat. Others wanted to find ways to embrace it.

I would be interested to hear from anyone else who has a perspective on this question.

Joslin McKinney


Theatre, Training, education, theatre, Education, training, teaching