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Drama school students need real world lessons (your views, June 7)

Royal Welsh College, view from Bute Park Royal Welsh College
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One can understand Douglas Eaton’s critique of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama’s move to scrap grading for first-year students to mitigate potential stress (Letters, May 31).

In his mind, training should include preparing for rejection, but that’s a secondary purpose of teaching. (Co-incidentally, in the same issue, your Dear West End Producer column has encouraging tips about how to cope with rejection.) But there’s another angle that Eaton touches upon when he mentions “the real world” of work.

Every drama school that fits into the higher education bracket has to give marks in the end so that degrees can be awarded. But there’s a more telling point. In the “real world”, you are never (or rarely) marked. So how do schools wean students away from marks towards what they will experience in the profession? Move them towards “the real world” where it’s what people say that matters?

We, and no doubt others, already distance commentary from marks – with a two-week gap. The idea is that, by the time you’ve finished reading the commentary, the mark is predictable and gradually of no consequence. We are also considering making the first year a pass or fail.

Preparing for competition is sensible, as is coping with the result… which may not be rejection.

Mark Featherstone-Witty
Founding principal and chief executives
Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts Learning Group

Fair access is the way forward

With reference to your front-page story about Central principal Gavin Henderson facing calls to resign over his views on diversity quotas (May 17), I absolutely support moves to facilitate greater diversity and to bring about equality of opportunity for all. However, I am unsure as to the aim of those demanding quotas.

Central principal Gavin Henderson faces calls to resign over diversity quotas remarks

In the 2011 census, 87% of the UK population identified themselves as White or White British and 3% as Black or Black British. In a class of 100, then, one might reasonably expect three to be Black, six might be Asian, and two mixed race. This would be a reasonably fair reflection of the ethnic composition of the UK.

If, say, in a class of 100, more than 90 were White, that would certainly suggest an imbalance and that access was unfair. Likewise, if, say, 10 were Black or Asian or mixed race, that, too, would suggest unfairness. No? This assumes, of course, that the class draws upon applicants from the UK as a whole and not only from London.

If we are asking to tip the balance in favour of ethnic minorities, what would be the basis of the argument? To admit students on the basis of their ethnicity or on their skills/talent?

What actually matters is that we work harder to provide equality of opportunity and access to quality education and training.

Jeremy Walker
Artistic director and producer,
National Youth Music Theatre
Via thestage.co.uk

Opera degree: for the record

We were extremely surprised and concerned to read your article regarding Associated Studios and Rose Bruford College (‘Tips to help you succeed on your path towards an operatic career’, May 31).

The proposed BA (hons) opera performance studies degree, which was jointly developed by staff at Rose Bruford College and Associated Studios, was considered at a recent validation event at Rose Bruford College. A number of commendations, recommendations and conditions were set by the validation panel, as is usual at such events.

Subsequently, Associated Studios decided not to proceed with the proposal. This was largely due to a concern that, in order to enable the meeting of the proposed revisions, the current fee cap would not enable the programme to operate at the excellent level of quality required by both institutions. We wish to make it clear that the proposal was not “rejected by the university’s validation committee”.

Leontine Hass
Chief executive and artistic director, Associated Studios
Dr Andrew Walker
Vice-principal of Rose Bruford College and chair of the BA (hons) opera performance validation panel

It’s time for new critical voices

In response to Mark Shenton’s column (‘Critics are important, but they are certainly not irreplaceable’, May 31), I would like to point out that Kaleem Aftab writes for the Independent. I should know – he gave me a stinker recently.

But I’m not hopeful we will have more critics of colour when the productions they review are written, directed, designed, acted and produced by white people.

It’s a fairly simple equation. If we really want change (and I’m speaking to myself here), we know what we have to do.

The rise of online review sites has had a curious effect: where once a single good review in a respected publication – for example, Time Out (remember those days?) – would mean an instant sell-out, now the huge number of responses, often wildly different, has made audiences more discerning.

The days when a nice comment from Billington (thanks for the recent one, Michael) made a difference are long gone. And ultimately that has to be a good thing. We need new, challenging voices. Change or die.

Anthony Biggs
Co-artistic director,
Playground Theatre
Via thestage.co.uk

Quotes of the week

Deborah McAndrew. Photo: Pamela Raith
Deborah McAndrew. Photo: Pamela Raith

“I prefer to talk about regional voices rather than accents. Received Pronunciation is, after all, just another accent – and one that most people in the UK don’t use. We’ve probably got quite a long way to go before ideas of class – and thereby, education and status – are not inextricably linked to how you pronounce the word ‘bath’” – Playwright and actor Deborah McAndrew (Times Higher Education)

“I’m generalising massively, but at the National people come with that kind of, you know, ‘I’m a connoisseur.’ Whereas in the West End they just rock up, say, ‘Oh, d’you feel like seeing this, let’s book, it’s got a nice poster.’ If they want to eat sweets, they’re fine with rustling away. It’s more unruly. But they laugh in the right places, thank fuck.” – Playwright Nina Raine (Times)

“It is the most popular art form in the country. We need a dedicated national musical theatre. How wonderful would it be for every musical to be given a full orchestra and a proper space? I will try to make it happen.” – Actor Janie Dee (Telegraph)

“The first preview is always the most terrifying – it feels like there’s nowhere to hide. You have to confront the thing you’ve made, which is inevitably slightly different to the thing you thought you’d made. Seeing it through the audience’s eyes for the first time really brings you up against the reality. It’s as if you’re seeing a different side of the prism.” – Director Polly Findlay (Guardian)

“[Hollywood] is built on sickness. Very early on I looked at the power structure, the figureheads, the silence, the closed ranks. Nobody tells. It operates like a cult.”  – Actor and activist Rose McGowan (Guardian)

“There is a misconception that if you choose arts at school and university, you are going to spend your life starving in a garret. In the present climate, where there is so little job security, it is more justifiable than ever to study something you are passionate about. The happiest people I know are the ones who are not doing something that feels like a job.” – Actor and writer Meera Syal (Sunday Times)

“A few years ago, I would have said there would always be a thriving theatre production scene in Scotland, enough to support some kind of career for young theatre workers; now, I’m not so sure, and a lot of gifted young theatre workers have gone in the last few years, mainly to London.” – Playwright David Greig (Scotsman)

“It’s a dreadful pity that funding for the arts has been cut by this government. The right to be part of theatre should transcend privilege, but sadly it doesn’t.” – Polly Stenham (Guardian)

Email your views to alistair@thestage.co.uk Please mark your email as ‘for publication’. The Stage reserves the right to edit letters for publication.

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