The “Theatre Degree” Stigma

Lifestyle

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A few things have happened recently that have awoken the little voice inside my head that likes to come out and rant every now and then. The constant threat of funding cuts to the arts and the disappearance of subjects such as Music and Drama from GCSE option boxes across the country are just two of the reasons why I wanted to write this post. Recently, my friend Sophie performed an autobiographical piece about the injustice that undercurrents the education system, in terms of the prejudice that surrounds Theatre as both a subject and a potential career path. Her ‘political rant’ resonated a lot with me, making me think about the many times I’ve been made to feel slightly (I hate to say it but) ashamed of my choice to study Theatre at university.

When it came to choosing my degree subject almost 3 years ago now (oh my gaaaad, where has the time gone?!) there was an obvious winner in my mind from the outset. Yes, I attended Law talks at Warwick and even a Psychology open day at Cambridge, but my heart always led me back to Theatre. Anyone who knows me will understand how important a role the theatre has played in my life and these are the people who have never once questioned my decision to further my education in this field. That being said, there is definitely a prominent stigma around studying for a Theatre degree or particularly around the people who study for a Theatre degree and that is something I have always found ridiculous.

Historically, the subject of Theatre Studies has been branded as “fluffy” and has yet to be viewed on the same level in terms of difficulty as other more traditional subjects, such as Geography or Maths. Therefore, the assumption that the people studying for a Theatre degree are “less academic” and “less able” has been cemented amongst the minds of the majority. However, the stereotype that someone who enjoys learning about the theatre industry is less intelligent than someone who enjoys studying continental drift or trigonometry is honestly absurd to me. If I had a pound for the amount of times I’ve received a patronising “oh, how nice” or “oh, so do you want to be like an actress or something?” after revealing that I study Theatre at university, I would be a veeeeery rich gal.

People don’t seem to understand that my course is academic (trust me, at times it is too academic!!!). I’m still submitting essays at the end of every module, reading ridiiiiiiculous amounts of academic writing each week and attending seminars and workshops. On top of this, I am rehearsingBeing a theatre student, you are not only assessed theoretically but also practically which comes with the assumption that you will carry out a set number of hours as ‘rehearsal time’. Quite honestly, I think I spend 90% of my life rehearsing for something or other (and that is not me being an overdramatic drama student, I promise). I would absolutely loooove to invite the people who have this preconception of Theatre as a subject to sit in on one of my seminars and give their opinion on how phenomenology affects an audience’s experience or how romanticism conformed to or subverted the avant-garde movement towards postmodernism (literally just throwing all the big words that I know at you now lol).

It really does sadden me that I feel as if I have to justify my decision to study a subject that I love to other people who are too quick to judge. Theatre makes me happy. Theatre interests me. Theatre makes me want to learn. So, why shouldn’t I study for a degree in it? Because it’s not ‘academic’? Because I’m ‘never going to get a real job’? Or because I’ll ‘never have a stable income’? My response to these questions is one of self-fulfilment in the sense that I know for a fact that whatever job I do end up doing, in whichever part of the industry I decide to go into, I’ll be doing it because I love it, not because I have to be doing it. Whilst this may be an unpopular opinion of the minority, I would much rather live a life where I’m potentially not always in a constant flow of work, but when I am working it’s doing something that I’m passionate about, rather than being stuck in a 9-5 office job that I absolutely despise. I find it so disheartening when I hear people say “you’re not supposed to love your job…that’s why it’s called work,” because, honestly, I don’t see anything wrong with wanting to enjoy what you do.

Another thing that really makes me laugh is that the people who undermine Theatre as a career choice will have a favourite film, or a favourite book, or will enjoy going to watch the pantomime at Christmas, or a musical on Broadway, or will watch every ITV drama under the sun. What they don’t seem to understand is that THEATRE PEOPLE HAVE MADE THESE THINGS HAPPEN!! The industry is one that brings constant enjoyment to the lives of (may be generalising here but I’m going to roll with it) everyone, or has done at least once in their lifetime. That’s why it makes me so sad that as theatre students, it feels like we’re fighting this constant battle to defend our subject to those so quick to undermine it.

I feel as if I have fully just word-vommed onto the page but I thought it was important to fight my little corner about a subject I’m super passionate about and love with allllll ma heart.

(Also just want to take a few words to defend all my fellow Theatre guys and gals. The people that I study with and others that I know who study elsewhere are honestly some of the best, most intelligent people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Their creativity is OFF THE SCALE and their knowledge literally pours out of them every time they speak. All the love ever).

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