The drama about Flinders Universities Drama Centre
Written by: (Contributed by a Flinders University student) on 23 December 2020
Recently there has been an outcry from Flinders University Drama students due to some proposed changes made in a November 16th 2020 report by Flinders University, titled Drama Provision – Future Vision and Strategy.
These changes must be looked at within the context of price hikes to humanity degrees, introduced by the Morrison government, and the closing of many humanities courses by institutions (Monash cutting 103 subjects and removing its theatre degree, Macquarie University considering the removal of 30 arts majors) due to a decrease in profits caused by covid-19 – the arts always being the first to go due to its perceived unimportance in our profit driven society.
So of course, when changes to the nationally renowned Bachelor of Creative Arts (Drama) are recommended, a defensive suspicion is rightfully the position those sympathetic to the arts will take. As Marxists-Leninists-Maoists, we must look to the masses for what positions, policies and actions should be held and taken. Much noise has been made by the drama students including a city rally and a sit-in protest at the Drama Centre, and, by virtue of their resistance, their voices should be heard.
The criticisms that the report has with the BCA (Drama) can be boiled down to a curriculum that is too heavily reliant on ‘internal development’; a sticking to traditional/conservative curriculum which has led to the exclusion of modern mediums i.e. Youtube, TikTok, Instagram, etc.; and an us vs. them mentality that is present between the BCA (Drama) and other offered drama degrees including Bachelor of Arts (Drama). The report concludes that the BCA (Drama) does not meet the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) for a bachelor degree (Level 7) because it does not precisely state what the knowledge, skills and learning outcomes of the degree are, and instead focusses on “personal expressive growth”.
Regarding the focus on “personal expressive growth”
Acting as a skill involves “personal expressive growth” just as any skill does. To make a comparison, scientific writing involves personal expressive growth. A third-year biology student, ideally, would be better equipped at expressing the ideas of a given biology topic than that of a first-year biology student. The outcome of improving one’s scientific writing (personal expression) is a more coherent scientific paper, just as the outcome of improving of ones acting skills is a more believable performance. Of course, there is a subjectivity to the grading of ones acting skills but is there not subjectivity to the grading of ones writing skills? Thus, saying that an acting degree’s grades rely too heavily on “personal expressive growth” is akin to saying that an acting degree’s grades rely too heavily on the student’s performance, the whole point of the degree.
Briefly, the criticism here is that what is taught is taught by the “passing of the torch” (quoted from the Vision and Mission Statement of the BCA (Drama)). Implying that what is taught is not progressive methods and content but old and possibly outdated methods and content. The report states “The panel was perplexed by what appeared to be an unquestioned faith in the conservatoire pedagogical model, as if its replication were an end in itself, and as if there were no alternatives. This nostalgic perspective seemed to find further expression in references to aesthetic constructs reminiscent of nineteenth century romanticism, such as “passing the torch”…”.
The report also references another phrase from the Vision and Mission Statement, “art is a civilizing force in our society”, which they rightfully point out as “a strange note of European elitism and colonialism.” I could not find the vision statement being referenced, but if it does indeed hold these sentiments then the torch of European colonialism has been passed down and the vision statement should be revamped. Possibly, a better idiom would be “standing on the shoulders of giants”, as this implies a building on top of what has been passed down.
This traditionalism, the report says, has also led to a lack of collaboration between the industry partners at the university such as VFX students and The Void (Flinders university’s motion capture and VR lab). Furthermore, the curriculum, the report states, has not been updated for the digital age, where graduates can “exploit new markets” (a phrasing I am not fond of) on platforms such as Youtube, TikTok and Instagram. The recommendation proposed by the university is to include topics or a major in this emerging market. As one student interviewed by the ABC pointed out, “"We're trying to become actors by attending this school and by them saying they're trying to make us more job ready they're actually hindering our specialisation.”.
Regarding Sectarianism and the Drama Centre
There is a reported culture, confirmed by staff, of BCA (Drama) being the superior drama degree. For example, where BCA (Drama) students have rehearsed in a professional theatre, students from other majors are sent to a publicly accessible theatre (pointed out by a teaching student majoring in drama). This has led to a wider understanding that BCA (Drama), which is largely carried out in the Drama Centre, represents all drama at Flinders. Thus, the Drama Centre has become inextricably linked to BCA (Drama), undermining the contributions of other drama degrees.
To remove this confusion, the report suggests the ceasing of the name Drama Centre. Students have taken this to mean that the BCA (Drama) is to be discontinued. A petition titled “Save Adelaide’s arts community! Save Flinders Drama!” has 8,007 signatures, at the time of writing this, and states the following “Flinders University has made the devastating decision to discontinue and phase out the Bachelor of Creative Arts (Drama) aka The Drama Centre”. This is not the case and only shows the strong link between the Drama Centre and BCA (Drama). We can assume that a knee jerk reaction and a game of telephone created the narrative of the phasing out of BCA (Drama). However, the speed in which students organised to fight for what they believed to a cutting of a humanities degree to increase profit for the university, is commendable.
Capitalism has pushed the drive for profit into every aspect of our lives. While “art for art’s sake” is never the case, as explained by Mao in Talks at the Yenan Forum, art most certainly shouldn’t have to be about the profit motive. While the report most certainly does not suggest the phasing out of BCA (Drama), it does suggest modernising the degree by teaching students to “exploit new markets”. While this is better than the phasing out of the course all together, as other intuitions are doing, it is still an unfortunate turn, one that is indicative of the culture, and a move that students have the right to be angry about. It is great to see such a quick, intense, defensive response to changes made by authorities driven by profit, and while some of the response was misguided, the revolutionary spirit amongst my fellow students has been nice to see.
Postscript: This article elicited the following response when put onto our Facebook page. We thanked the person concerned for her comment and offered to put it up as an addition to the original article. A further comment from that person is added. There is certainly nothing wrong with people who are supporting a particular struggle having different views on issues relating to that struggle. In fact, the more discussion and sorting through the issues the better – eds.
Mmm, very misguided commentary. The 'phasing out ' aspect of the Drama Centre is real and it's just plain old neoliberal approaches to manufacturing with the trade in question ,in this instance, that of the actor.
The bean-counters' desired new course will emphasise the actor's/worker's increased subservience to technology in a classic acceleration of alienation.
The false claims of elitism re the DC's relationship to Drama Workshop are in line with this trajectory. Drama Workshop students study drama not to produce theatre or other performance but because of its perceived adjunctive benefits to their aims of careers in such fields as tourism, teaching and various generic industrial sectors.
This analysis gets the required emphasis wrong. It is the training of actors, directors and writers which is being phased out not the de-teethed drama degree. The students are well aware of this.
The follow-up comment to the suggestion that this be added at the bottom of the article:
I possibly over-reacted a bit but the implication that they are not phasing out training for theatre-makers was wrong. All in the context of the demise of the sector externally made worse by covid, and, as the writer pointed out, any excuse to get rid of courses not in the direct service of big business.
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