Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

What in the World Do They Think We're Doing? Practitioners' Views on the Work of the Theatre Studies Academy

Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

What in the World Do They Think We're Doing? Practitioners' Views on the Work of the Theatre Studies Academy

Article excerpt

The days of free tertiary education are well and truly behind us. In their stead, today's students face the prospect of a lifetime of fee repayments or else the option of full-fee paying admission into the world of academia. At the same time, exorbitant rent and a spike in the general cost of living mean that today's students are likely to be working more hours than they study, leaving little time for the pursuit and enjoyment of learning for learning's sake. Such financial realities weigh heavily on the minds of students contemplating tertiary study, about which decisions are increasingly viewed in terms of vocational efficacy.

What does this mean for the field of academic Theatre Studies? What kind of career potential is offered by Bachelors degrees in Theatre and Performance? Where training institutes promise vocational training for aspiring practitioners, what might graduates of academic courses in Drama and Theatre Studies hope to gain as far as the real world value of their qualifications?1 Given the pragmatic concerns of today's tertiary student body, such questions bear contemplation. They hold no easy answers. It is not even clear to whom such questions should be put. Perhaps one relevant starting point is the industry: what do industry professionals understand to be the nature of academic Theatre Studies? And what is its perceived relevance to the real world of theatre production? In the course of conducting broader research into the relationship between the Theatre Studies academy and the mainstream Australian theatre industry, responses to these questions were gleaned, the nature of which raises a fundamental question about the work of the field of academic Theatre Studies: is it a source of inspiration, or just a lot of intellectual mumbo-jumbo?

Fields: paddocks or pitches?

In his 'Boundary Riders and Claim Jumpers: The Australian Theatre Industry', Richard Fotheringham draws on Bourdieu' s conception of field2 to map out the 'field of Australian theatre' ? Fotheringham points out that the 'geographical cliché' of 'field' is only justifiably applied when commonality in 'conditions, pressures, and/or external agents' are identified and are seen to 'affect all phenomena if not identically or equally, at least in recognisably interconnected ways' and when participants within the field 'have their actions informed by shared beliefs or habitual practices'.4 Fotheringham interprets Bourdieu's 'field' as a metaphorical reference to the pastoral field and, as such, invokes imagery of fences as its boundaries and of geographical formations as me significant marks in the landscape; for example, he refers to major theatre companies as 'a hill in the landscape'.5 He equates Bourdieu's 'agents' within a field with the notion of 'agencies' and identifies four types of agency as influential in mapping the course of the performing arts: State and Federal funding bodies, building programmes, festival organisations, and tertiary education institutes - the latter including both universities and training institutions. Fotheringham suggests that such breadth of agency, together with the competing interests and priorities of different sectors within the theatre industry - for example, those of commercial, community, student, and experimental theatres - make for an industry entirely too vast and sprawling to be usefully categorised by the metaphor of the pastoral field.

But Bourdieu's notion of 'field' can be read through the sporting analogy of the playing field as well. Indeed, in 'Pierre Bourdieu: The Intellectual Project' Cheleen Mäher quotes Bourdieu's explanation that 'there are fields and strategies and people "play" different games' .6 In this sense, the field is the ground upon which matches are played by individual players (Bourdieu's agents) who compete on behalf of teams (institutions). Players engage in a game plan (struggle and strategy) in order to win a match (acquire capital - economic, symbolic or cultural). …

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