Last week, quite by chance, while reviewing a show for The Stage I ran into a former teaching colleague whom I hadn’t seen for 25 years, so there was a deal of catching up to do in a short time.
One of the things she said, in passing, which worried me was this. An English graduate, she has taught secondary school drama for many years and is delighted by the number of ‘her’ students who go on to do drama in universities. “But don’t any of them go to drama schools for vocational training?” I asked. “Not many,” she replied, adding warmly: “I always advise them to go to university first and then go on to drama school afterwards if they want to.” I gulped and muttered something about that being OK if you can afford it but quietly thinking that for most young people who want a hands-on performing arts career, my former colleague’s is totally the wrong advice.
Then, a few days later I received a letter. Now, normally I have nothing to do with anonymous letters on the grounds that if you want to say something you have to be prepared to stand up and be counted… but this one is signed “angry graduate”. As I reached across to bin it, the subject matter caught my eye. So I’m going to break my own rule and refer to it here.
The nameless student graduated from an acting course last year. S/he says: “Having spent three years and nearly £20,000 on the course, it is with great annoyance that I am coming to terms with the deficiencies in it.” And it’s quite a horror story which I will summarise:
- Only one voice module taught by qualified coach in three years
- Classes of 40
- Most ‘teaching’ read to students out of books by academics with no professional experience
- Promised a London showcase which did not come about
- Promised exposure to industry professionals but got only ‘a couple of projects run by small, local theatre-in-education companies
The alarming thing is that the student (probably initially advised by someone like my former colleague) had no idea until s/he had completed the course that there was anything wrong with it. Having now compared notes with graduates of drama school courses the problem is all too clear to him/her and the only option is an expensive post-graduate course in a recognised drama school in order, as the student puts it, “to receive the training that I thought I had already paid for.”
It really is high time the performing arts industries - and the training industry within them - found ways of getting the right careers advice and information to school students before they make these big, expensive, life-affecting decisions. Teachers are, in general, hopeless at careers advice - not their field, after all. Creative and Cultural Skills is working hard at this and RSC has run some good careers events, but there needs to be much, much more.
Do post your thoughts, experiences and views below this blog. I think we need a debate on this one. And if that angry graduate is out there, for goodness’ sake get in touch. My name’s Susan. What’s yours?