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Do we really need showcases?

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What is the point of drama school showcases? Yes, I’ve written about this before and I bet I shall return to it in the future because I never seem to get any satisfactory answers and things are not getting any better.

Does this industry really expect to judge a student’s ability, after two or three years of intensive training, based on a stressed, strained, out-of-context two minutes at the Criterion Theatre (or possibly the Soho)? Surely any casting director or agent worth even the tiniest pinch of salt takes him or herself out to the colleges to see the students in action in proper full length shows? I’m a showcase veteran and when I talk to industry professionals at these rather peculiar events, many of them already have an eye on certain individuals because they’ve seen them in other work, so why the pink whiskers do they need a showcase as well?

And who chooses the items – monologues, duologues, songs and so on – which graduating students perform in showcases? I wish I had a five pound note or even a pound coin for every student I’ve seen at a showcase struggling through material which is totally unsuitable and certainly doesn’t demonstrate what he or she might really be able to do. And sometimes it’s very uneven. In some showcases some students make three or four appearances while others appear only once.

And if a student is to appear more than once the two pieces should – obviously – be contrasting to demonstrate versatility. And yet, I’ve lost count of the showcases I’ve seen in which a student is effectively typecast in the same role – black guy with racist chip on his shoulder, for example – two or three times. If the purpose of a showcase is to highlight breadth of ability then many fail dismally.

When I have said all this in connection with specific showcases I have several times received anguished emails from the students themselves telling me that they agree with me but that they had no choice over what they performed. They were simply assigned speeches and numbers by the director. Now obviously this is not the case in every drama school showcase and there are plenty who devise their showcases collaboratively, but surely no student – who has paid a very high price for his or her training – should ever be exposed to top-down selling short?

I’m looking forward to hearing from a college or training institution with the courage to say that, tradition be damned, it has decided not to bother with showcases at all but to concentrate on shows and getting the right people to see them. Showcases must, surely, take a lot of time to prepare and that valuable time could be used for something else. As things are the only real winners, of course, are venues such as the Criterion Theatre for which drama school showcases running at lunchtime must be a very useful source of additional income.

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