Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Lineages, Training, Techniques and Tradition: Rethinking the Place of Rusden in Melbourne's Contemporary Theatre - A Roundtable Discussion

Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Lineages, Training, Techniques and Tradition: Rethinking the Place of Rusden in Melbourne's Contemporary Theatre - A Roundtable Discussion

Article excerpt

Introduction

From the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, Rusden State College - later Victoria College - located in the suburban-industrial Melbourne suburb of Clayton, was an unlikely powerhouse of contemporary theatre and performance training. As a teacher-training college, Rusden taught generations of secondary school teachers in fields as diverse as the sciences, the humanities, Physical Education, Media Studies, Dance and Drama. The open weave of the offerings at the campus allowed students to complete majors in two or three creative arts areas, or in less conventional combinations, with areas such as Physical Education or Earth Science alongside the creative arts.

Certain historical and institutional imperatives worked to shape the evolution of a training which could be identified as distinctively 'Rusden'. The fact that it was a teacher-training college undoubtedly influenced the ethos of the course and of its graduates. Some students came wanting to teach and found themselves working as artists; some came wanting to be artists and found themselves working as teachers. Less career-oriented generations of aspiring artists nonetheless comforted themselves and, no doubt, their parents, with the thought that they could always support their artistic endeavours by teaching. While intake into the intensive stream, 'Double Drama', was selective and audition-based, many students discovered a passion for Drama by choosing an elective sequence in 'Single Drama'.

Having grown from the Monash Teachers' College, Rusden traces its beginnings to the culturally progressive days of the late Whitlam era. Higher education was free and available to people from diverse economic and cultural backgrounds. Rusden was also coming at the end of a remarkable era of cultural innovation in Australia. From avowedly Marxist theatremakers such as John Romeril who began his artistic career at Monash University - also a centre of the anti- Vietnam war protest movement - to the rise and fall of the Australian Performing Group - from where key teaching staff came as visiting artists in residence - Rusden was a community of artists, educators and students who led the field.

Rusden was merged with Burwood and Toorak Colleges of Advanced Education and renamed Victoria College in the early 1980s. It was finally ceded to Deakin University in 1992 in the university amalgamations of the mid-Hawke-Keating era. This was a period of rapid and dramatic transformation in the tertiary sector. In her history of Victoria College, Vivian Roche notes how the State of Victoria had twenty-six higher education institutions in 1980; by 1992 these were absorbed into eight multicampus universities within a unified national system.1 Fee-paying was also gradually introduced under Labor's rule and was rapidly escalated under the Howard Liberal Government (1996-2007), which aimed to corporatise higher education. While the theatre programme continues at Deakin University - and newer schools of theatre evolved, including the Victorian College of the Arts - a dramatic period of educational arts experimentation, arts access and arts activism ended with Rusden.

The eclectic training in performance-making, theatre studies, drama pedagogy and experiential learning at Rusden was a hybrid and democratic vision for theatre. At the end of the Whitlam era, counter-cultural interventions seemed more possible and the account of theatre was Utopian and imaginative. Australian Performing Group (APG) experimentalism sat alongside work from the UK community theatre movement; programmes of prison theatre and arts in schools and workplaces were developed; the methods of Dorothy Heathcote and Viola Spolin, pioneers of the use of drama in the classroom, were taught. Grotowski's Towards a Poor Theatre, Albert Hunt's Hopes for Great Happenings, Alan Kaprow, The Drama Review (TDR), Samuel Beckett, Alfred Jarry, Antonin Artaud, Stephen Sewell, Dorothy Hewett, Bertolt Brecht, Noël Coward, Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre, women's theatre, Stasis, impulse work, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, anti-nukes protest theatre, visual theatre, design, Peter Handke, Konstantin Stanislavski and Dario Fo all somehow juggled for attention in the hectic pace of the Rusden curriculum. …

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