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October 15, 2012 | by  | in Arts Theatre |
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Some Things I Learnt About Studying Theatre At Vic

I have just spent three years studying theatre at Victoria University of Wellington. I am one of many. There are people doing theatre to supplement teaching degrees, or business degrees, or law degrees; there are people developing their “people skills”; there are people doing it just because because they love it. I wish I was one of those people.

I belong to a small minority of idiots who believe theatre is their calling; for me, this has been a vocational study like any other. The symptoms are crippling. I am reduced to an existentialist wreck, a walking parody of Hamlet, always questioning: Why? When? How? Who’s fault is this? and perhaps most pertinently, should I have gone to Toi Whakaari?

For those of you asking similar questions, here’s


  1. 1. You will not be taught how to act. There is no assignment that grades you on your acting ability.
  2. 2. The above fact will cause problems in practical papers. Students are very aware of what their performance should or could look like, and will become conscious that they lack the skills to do it. Similarly, lecturers trying to polish their productions will give acting advice to their students. If this isn’t kept in check, the true (gradable) learning objectives of the paper are forgotten.
  3. 3. Still, you will be taught that theatre is not just people acting on a stage. This is important.

    4. THEA101 will be an unfulfilling experience, particularly if you did drama at high school.

    5. It is very tricky to analyse theatre in a productive and insightful way. The most astute, articulate people can. Just.

    6. Because of this, theatre scholars make use of a broad range of critical tools, many of them very modern, and many of them dealing with such nasty things as post-structuralism and phenomenology. As such, over the course of a theatre degree you may develop an understanding of what criticism is (or should be) that far exceeds that of other arts students.

    7. If you don’t, you’ll still pass. Easily.

    8. You may be exposed to lecturers with an invested interest in teaching(!). Since the arrival of Dr James McKinnon last year, the VUW Theatre department is home to a pedagogy that seeks to fix or replace aspects of the current model of tertiary education which are broken. It is progressive, and it is slowly but surely instating itself across a number of papers. This is a good, good thing.

    9. People won’t believe you when you say McKinnon’s model is the best thing to happen to VUW since the IIML because you’re talking about theatre and that’s not a real subject.

    10. The VUW Theatre department is part of a Wellington community that includes practicing artists. If you get the opportunity to work with/learn from them, take it.

    11. Theatre lecturers generally know how to use their voice properly and don’t need a microphone. The time saved by not fucking around with the sound-system is unbelievable.

    12. Students of VUW Theatre and students of Toi Whakaari are either suspicious or dismissive of each other. This attitude is unhealthy, and has probably prevented a thousand fruitful collaborations.

    13. This may be partly because there are no formal structures in place which encourage the cross-fertilization of knowledge between VUW Theatre and Toi Whakaari. (Staff, I’m looking at you).

    14. You could come out of VUW Theatre knowing what you want to change about theatre today. This is nice.

    15. You will need to work long and hard, and probably do further training, to make any of these changes happen.

    16. A major in theatre requires fewer points than most other majors. Take this as a hint: study other things as well.

    17. There are students studying theatre who don’t go and see theatre. Avoid them.

    18. It is OK to go to drama school after completing a BA in theatre. In fact, it will probably help you a great deal.

    19. You will meet people who share your passions. If these people become friends, it will be the best kind of friendship.

    20. Theatre is more than a subject. Uni courses should not be the only theatre you do for three years.

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