It was a question asked at a meeting I attended last week. It sounds a bit trivial when there are huge issues about funding training and what a drama school student’s entitlement and training experience should be.
Actually, setting aside my immediate frivolous thought that it’s obviously just set-your-sights-high preparation to play Hamlet in his “inky cloak” and “customary suits of solemn black,” there is a serious side to this and it’s worth thinking about.
For a start it isn’t true that drama students are always required to wear black. Some colleges and schools don’t insist on “uniform” but others do. I visit schools all over the country and I know that policies vary tremendously.
Those that require corporate dress say it puts students in the right frame of mind. “There’s a sense of putting on work clothes to come to work,” says Geoff Colman, Head of Acting at Central School of Speech and Drama which specifies black for classes.
In the 1930s Laurence Olivier and co wore jackets and ties to movement classes and the women sported Grecian style short tunics
The same arguments get trotted out as for school uniform: black depersonalises individuals, takes away the need to compete about what you wear and helps to create group bonding.
It also means that nobody turns up to a class in a “best” garment which they value and so don’t want to lie on a studio floor in it – a self conscious preoccupation which would be bound to inhibit his or her work focus.
Yet some schools are relaxed about dress simply asking for appropriate garments such as leotards, track suit trousers and loose tee shirts without specifying colour or requiring clothes to be purchased especially – potentially yet another cost to add to the drama school experience bill.
In the past, Colman tells me, CSSD – and other schools – had extraordinary student dress codes by today’s standards. In the 1930s Laurence Olivier and co wore jackets and ties to movement classes and the women sported Grecian style short tunics. “We’ve got a photograph somewhere of Cicely Berry, the great voice coach, wearing one of those tunics,” he laughs.
So obviously things have changed and improved. And I’m left wondering whether drama school students still need a uniform and, if they do, whether it needs to be black. I’m doing my wondering with an open mind, though. I don’t know the answers.
What did you wear when you were training? If you’re a student now, what does your training institution advise/require you to wear to classes? Do you think it’s an important issue, and if so why?
I look forward to hearing your views and experiences.