I meet hundreds of drama students every year. And I often travel all over the country to meet them on home turf in their colleges as well as observing them at showcases in London.
The thing which strikes me about them as a group is their extraordinary work ethic. They attend rigorous energetic classes all day and often work far into the evening - especially if there’s a show on. “I went back to the flat I share with some other uni students the other day at lunch time to collect something I’d forgotten” and incredulous Manchester School of Theatre student told me recently. “And the others were still in their pyjamas!”
That’s the trouble, I suppose, with opting for a subject which gives you a handful of teaching hours per week and an awful lot of unspoken for time. Drama students, in accredited schools, get 30 hours minimum so they’re busy all day every day.
I’m also - always - impressed by how articulate, thoughtful and mature they are as a group. They compare very favourably indeed with most of their counterparts in most other disciplines. In fact, if I were recruiting for, say, an admin assistant or PR executive and faced with a history graduate and a drama graduate I’d take the drama graduate every time.
This is, of course, because drama - and performing arts in general - training is very good indeed at developing the much vaunted “transferable skills.” And most of these drama students have been working in performance teams, learning lines, memorising movements, thinking deeply about character and many other things since they were children.
It means that contrary to what anyone says, most drama graduates are employable because they are so good at so many things. It probably won’t be acting … but there are jobs out there.
Not acting? Well no, and that’s the trouble. Transferable skills are all very well and useful to have, but no young person goes to drama school with the intention of acquiring transferable skills. He or she chose this higher education path because of a passion for performance. They want to be on stage doing what they’d been trained (at considerable personal cost these days) to do. At the end of three years’ hard work you simply cannot fob them off with “Well never mind, you’ve got plenty of transferable skills. Go and apply to be a classroom assistant or a train conductor.” And I’m sure, incidentally, that one of the conductors on a line I use regularly is a trained actor.
Yes, transferable skills are a bonus but they are not the raison d’etre of drama training. And we should not, definitely not, use the whole transferable skills concept as a woolly, comfortable justification for training too many drama students - and taking their money - under false pretences.