Academic journal article About Performance

The Academic Lives of Student Actors: Conservatoire Training as Degree-Level Study

Academic journal article About Performance

The Academic Lives of Student Actors: Conservatoire Training as Degree-Level Study

Article excerpt

A case could, it is believed, be easily made out for the direct establishment of an acting school under the exclusive aegis of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. This is not recommended, out of deference to the view that the University should not be solely responsible for a course of training that includes some elements such as mime and dancing, or practical stage work that do not seem to be of academic character.

-Morven Brown

"Recommendations regarding suggested new courses in drama" (1958)

Writing in 1958, the Dean of the School of Humanities at the newly rechristened University of New South Wales (UNSW) expressed a contemporary view that the training of creative arts practitioners had no place in an academic institution.1 He goes on to suggest that in this case the University could benefit from association with an acting school without having to host it within its walls. Professor Brown's submission to the Professorial Board continues:

An alternative to direct University control-and one that is here recommended-is that the University collaborate with the [Australian] Elizabethan Theatre Trust in funding an Institute of Dramatic Art. The pattern of Institutes organically associated with Universities is already well accepted in Britain [...] The Senior Lecturer in Dramatic Art [appointed by UNSW] could, if he [sic] were paid an additional appropriate allowance, act as Director of the Institute, that is as its executive officer. In his dual role he would associate the theatre school with the academic teaching of the University and particularly with the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. (Brown 1958)

With the enthusiastic support of Philip Baxter, the first Vice-Chancellor of UNSW, Brown's recommendations were accepted and an acting school was founded on the grounds of UNSW, associated with but not "under the exclusive aegis" of the University. This acting school was named the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) and it was Australia's first state-funded actor training institution. Its foundation realised one of the key goals of the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust (AETT) a body established by the government of Robert Menzies to "make theatre in Australia the same vigorous and significant force in our national life as it was in England during the reign of the first Elizabeth" (AETT 1954). As a key strategy toward this aim, the AETT undertook to encourage "the establishment of a training school where new talent can be developed" (AETT 1954). A mere five years later, NIDA's first students arrived in February 1959 to undertake a two-year Diploma of Acting, validated and awarded by the Institute.

Thanks to the efforts of Baxter and particularly of Brown, NIDA has been independent from UNSW since its inception, a fact which has become central to the Institute's identity.2 In his 1979 book surveying the history of NIDA, founding Artistic Director Robert Quentin asserts that the Institute "rejoices in its association with the university, and in its independence" (n.p.). Earlier, in 1970, Quentin had collaborated with one of his successors John Clark on a document that outlined a strategic vision for NIDA's future. While they asserted that "the academic school needs the example of performance and close association with the profession and professional training [and] NIDA needs contact with the academic school" (Clark and Quentin 1970), this language is guarded. Their general discussion of "interdependence" (Clark and Quentin 1970) speaks to the Institute's reticence to expand its relationship with the University. Despite a general geographical confusion caused by the proximity of the two institutions, today's NIDA and UNSW are in fact further removed than they were in 1959 when Quentin was appointed to the dual role of Artistic Director of NIDA and Senior Lecturer (later Professor) in Drama at UNSW.

At the same time, Australia's other major conservatoire-style training programs have all been amalgamated into universities. …

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