Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Lyn Gardner on the Oxbridge Connection

If you remember back before the Outrgaeous Fortune blog-a-thon, there was a fairly heated discussion about...Outrageous Fortune... and the evidence that a whole lot of playwrights were being filtered through the same handful of (largely) private, elite universities. We discussed the impact this might have on diversity, its reflection of class issues, and its weighting of the scales within the field of theatre. Well, in a February 1st article on the London Guardian's theatre blog, Lyn Gardner asks a similar question: "Why is British theatre still in thrall to Oxbridge?" There were quite a few people who wanted to deny that this effect existed in the US, and even if there were a handful of programs calling all the shots, it was probably because the students who went there were better than everybody else and deserved their success; and even if there were a handful of theatre teachers teaching these students, diversity was not threatened because these teachers were all about allowing their students to find their own voice.

But Lyn Gardner asks the same questions I and a lot of others were asking, and coming up with the same answers:

Maybe it's simply the case that Oxbridge people who go into theatre are not just brighter but more go-getting than their peers. Perhaps the opportunities to make and direct theatre at Oxbridge are greater than they are at other universities.

But I suspect there's more to it than that. Theatre directing is a profession in which it is immensely hard to secure a foothold: connections and networking play a major part, as does the ability to be supported during the crucial early stages of a career – freelance directing, unpaid internships and the rest. What concerns me is that if the funding situation gets tighter – as it surely will – we will end up with a theatre culture that is even more dominated by people who have a particular set of backgrounds.
As if the current situation isn't bad enough.

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