Monday, 27 June 2011

Future Thoughts and a Visit to The Space.

Off the train and back to the day job with a full day of planning with Trevor, Patsy and Kasia in preparation for next year.

It's a fascinating time for Drama St Mary's. The first graduates from the new degree have just gone through with really impressive results. 76% gained either a first or a 2:1 - compared to 54% across the institution as a whole and although we did lose a handful on the way, everybody who stuck the course has ended up with a BA. It's a really good platform from which to build.

Of course good results don't stand for much if they don't help graduates into employment or further study - but the Applied Theatre work in Malawi, the Theatre Arts show case and the really impressive work done by the Level 3 Physical Theatre cohort give us real cause for optimism. There are agents sniffing round and several of the year group have already secured work for next year, often with companies or directors that they've worked with on the way through.

So far so good, but we know that the £8,000 fees give us a real challenge in terms of trying to attract students. It's a heavy investment and we've got to try and make sure that our offer provides something approaching value for money.

Much of the day was spent looking at whether we could move from a four day to a five day week for the students, in order to provide further training opportunities. We are still hamstrung a little by space. Indeed next year the occasionally used Langdon Centre in Teddington has been hired to full time in order to accommodate the curriculum and whereas elsewhere in the University the debate rages about how to design workloads that recognise the students need to take on part time work, we'd prefer to push ahead with a concentrated and extensive programme of work.

For me the few problems we had last year can all be resolved if we pay more attention to the tutorial system we set up this time last year. These are scheduled once a week at 9am and haven't been well attended. We weren't sharp enough in chasing those who didn't make it in and so an opportunity to really communicate new initiatives, advertise ongoing work and nip grievance in the bud, was lost.

Drama is a unusual subject in the academy. Firstly it's vocational and needs a great deal of contact time not just to transmit knowledge and discuss ideas, but primarily to set in place the good physical habits needed to be creative. Secondly, because it's about collaboration, it's imprecise. However near to perfection you personally take your craft, you'll be reliant on colleagues who bring their own experience, flaws and contradictions to the work. Even at its most remarkable it's always a compromise. It's why I think as a unit the 300 or so of us in Drama St Mary's are stronger than any pathway group, cast or individual. We've got to be prouder of each others work, accept the odd duff piece of work and build some momentum to move forward confidently.

In the evening I went over to the Isle of Dogs with Eleanor to meet Adam Hemming, who's agreed to take on the facilitation of her public engagement project. Adam weekly runs a drop in community drama group from his theatre The Space on West Ferry Road.

I don't know this venue at all. It's a converted Victorian church that at one point in its history must have welcomed the ship builders from the local yards into their congregation. It had a brilliant vibe, open, accomodating, with a friendly coffee shop/ bar and a real sense that the community own and support it.

The group do a huge range of activities and have just finished doing a full scale production. Adam thought the project would offer them a chance to do something in a minor key, explore the heritage of the area, whilst also giving him the chance to help develop some ensemble skills with his company.

He's only got six weeks to put something together, but was sure that he could use the resources, documents and old photos that Eleanor furnished him with, to create a small scale showcase on the Great Eastern launch site. It was a very positive meeting.

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