Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Jill Dolan on Theatre Education

Jill Dolan has posted her manifesto about theatre education, "Unhappy Thespians: A Manifesto on Training Theatre Students," which she delivered at the recent Association of Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) conference a few weeks ago.  It ought to be read by every theatre department faculty member, especially those who feel they need to be "training" students for the so-called "profession." Things have got to change, both in the theatre world and in the universities that feed it. As Dolan implies, there is something very, very sick about what we do to young artists.
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Scott, I think one of the biggest problems with actor training programs today is that these programs operate through universities. Maybe I should blame J. Michael Miller for this phenomenon, but I just don't think all these programs and schools make sense. Colleges love them, since it shows that they embrace the arts, and well they should, since these institutions of learning are on the whole completely liberal, appreciating and supporting the arts.

In Moscow/St. Petersburg and the UK combined, there are about 40 or so training programs geared towards actors. People might major in theatre to gain a Bachelor's degree in a university setting, but many times, if they want to experience conservatory acting training, they go to an acting school.

In the US, there might be 800-900 theatre programs and over 100 graduate training conservatories and many more undergraduate conservatories in colleges and universities.

I'm not sure that going to a university was an intended way for someone to train as an "actor". I don't know about playwriting, dramaturgy, stage management, and other technical disciplines, but as far as being an actor, people go to learn acting. At least, that's what I thought they did.

I don't understand what we want here?

If someone is twenty or thirty something years old and they decide to study acting, they're going to school to develop skills. At least, that's what they do in acting conservatories. If someone can get into a graduate acting program, they can work as an actor now. What they're looking to do is improve on movement work, voice work, speech, games, clowning, various acting exercises, scene study, theatre history, ensemble, etc. They're probably looking to have the ability to teach in a university setting with a graduate degree. If the school is ranked as "successful" in the profession, there's probably a big fat showcase to go to. That's security in the amazingly insecure world of the artist.

Maybe I've got this wrong as to what area of theatre training you're looking to change. I think it's ridiculous to put an 18 year old into a program where they only experience acting. There's something to be said for emotional maturity, which the average young person sorely lacks. Although, there are probably some people that an undergrad conservatory works out great for.

Honestly, any great actor is not going to be completely relying on an institution to give them an education. I think an individual spends their time and money on an graduate education because they want to move ahead in their field, they want to try and have a better and more prosperous life. I believe individual responsibility for ones education is of primary importance. I don't know what classes you're interested in actors in training learning, but I'd be curious to hear.

From my experience in MFA acting training, there IS a fixed model with little room to deviate, but the group is taken into account, as for the direction the training needs to go in.

I can understand growth in actor training and I do believe that the way actors are trained is vastly different in style from even 10 years ago, in regards to teaching skills.

The profession has stayed the same. Looks are important to the people who cast for theatre, tv, and film. That's not going to change anytime soon. Some of these things are out of people's control. Schools are ultimately going to play that game, in an effort to garner successful graduates. It's difficult to work as an actor professionally. That's why people invest thousands on an acting education- they want to work professionally. They want to make their living acting in some form. If people want to explore different forms of theatre, more esoteric models, someone is out there who will teach it.