Fighting out of the Fringes: private Law
These last three days have marked the nineteenth (after some conference debate that it was the twentieth or even twenty first) National Independent Schools’ Drama Association Conference. One word in this title will already have some of the left wing amongst us wishing to raise points but to the politics of private education we shall return later. Two and a half hours’ drive on a sunny day that caused my car to broil deposited me in the South Downs at the truly breath-taking Bedales: an invigorating bucolic wonder in wood, glass and grass. Architecture, although powerful, deeply powerful, does not make courses and I’d come for three days of what I presumed to be pen, paper, polite conversation and everyone getting to bed early. How wrong I was. It started with picking up my memory stick with my paperless pack on and being effusively greeted by the ebullient Jay Green, head of drama, and ended with a talk by Jude Law (more of him later).
The course is non profit. Despite a scheduled price rise next year it still represents amazing value at what will be £205. It is there to invigorate, challenge and provide a word that normally causes every muscle in my body to tense: networking. And it does a fantastic job. The ease, the camaraderie and generally bonhomie of the event leaves one believing (even more strongly than I already do if that’s possible) that drama teaching matters, desperately matters. The delegates were knowledgable, friendly, able and willing to discuss ideas. It is not often you can openly discuss Barba, Arts Council funding streams, the minutiae of method acting and the pros and cons of suggesting drama universities to students with other teachers. And this is where I move even more blatantly into personal politics because what I deliberately haven’t said here but am elliptically implying is other state teachers. I teach at an amazing grammar school, but I am in the state sector. The vast majority of delegates at this conference came from private schools. They all had gripes about their jobs, we all do. But I genuinely feel that the drama teachers I know who have companies, or masters/doctorates, or a deep and passionate understanding of their subject who choose work in the state sector are not viewed as particularly “special” by school management. The people at NISDAC had their difference recognised. Sometimes resulting in punishing extra-curricular schedules admittedly but here was a community where that depth of knowledge mattered.
I certainly cannot vouch for the teaching styles of those who I only engaged with in workshops but based on who they are and what they knew any student would have a truly quality dramatic education with these people. It is a shame I don’t feel this same way about the state teachers I’ve met on other courses. I appreciate this is a devisive statement but with Gove on the warpath to hack eduation amidst a climate of cuts and pay freezes it’s important to highlight. These people are excellent people who the state sector is failing to attract. My personal politics are anti-establishment but I have no problem with people paying for their educational choice for the same reason I have no problem with people who choose to drive Bentleys over any other brand of car. It’s choice. My private primary and grammar secondary education made me who I am and I am deeply grateful for the opportunities I had. If we want all UK students to achieve the very best, don’t provide teachers in the state sector with such a raw deal. And it is a raw deal in terms of time, resources, pay and often respect for such a subject that really forms the heartbeat of the school but is viewed as the runt. I have deep respect for those who do make their state schools the best. My school I do believe to be world-class, especially for those who are lucky enough to be studying drama. But when I’m provided with a green-oak-framed theatre space, with a full time technician, with a dedicated Theatre Manager then I will make these resources sing joyously and rigourously in the most magnificent ways. The chance of me being offered that in the state sector is smaller than in grammars and private education and therefore this is the way my head turns. For some people that marks me out as a bad person and although I can see where you might be coming from I make no apologies. I’m driven to succeed in my job and for me resources only will aid that vision.
Politics over, Jude was a nice end to the event but more on him soon. One workshop along the way on Eugenio Barba was truly excellent, despite good-mannered disagreement from another good-hearted delegate who was not so complimentary of the practical question of “how do we stop running” that took twenty minutes to explore. Another was fantastic – lead by the avuncular and all-encompassingly charming Ali Campbell who I think I would have forgiven a dull lecture from but was provided with some lovely delicate ways to explore Boal and how to link it clearly to emotional well-being in students. Some were weak though and with my roughfiction company hat on one way that we should be fighting out of the fringes more effectively is to offer our workshop services to events like these far more effectively. Knowing the needs of events like these better than some of the workshop leaders was frustrating but that’s our failure in marketing ourselves properly and something we need to rectify. It will help when our next tour takes place in the spring and our bid from obscurity to public view advances another little step.
Jude Law was lovely. A friend of mine texted: “I’ve met him, thoroughly decent chap” and I will not disagree. Charming, friendly and let’s be honest: beautiful. He spoke of his frustrations with projects like Alfie but also his admiration for theatre directors like Katie Mitchell, who introduced him to “the method” asking him at the age of sixteen to get a job in construction during the day to improve his characterisation. What I hadn’t appreciated was he left school at seventeen to go into theatrical work. Seemingly not the greatest credentials to address a room full of teachers but his parents were teachers and he knew the choices he was making. It’s not necessarily something I would advise my current students to do but based on attending this course I do know how to serve them that bit better. I’ve really learnt something. Thank you very much Jay Green and Bedales.
As a post script: private law, as well as tickling me, is law which regulates the relationships between individuals. Remove the more controlling connotations from the word “regulate” and surely you have the very job of a drama teacher?
Phil lives and works as a drama teacher in the midlands.
He is also co-director of www.roughfiction.com
He can be followed on twitter @philjckingTagged in: Fighting out of the Fringes, Jude Law
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