education, Politics, Theatre

on monash, outcry, success and upcoming guest bloggers

Monash BPA update:

I just want to do a quick update (as quick as I ever get; ‘concise’ isn’t my strong point) on what is happening with the Bachelor of Performing Arts at Monash University. Thank you for the huge response to the letter I wrote. It was incredibly gratifying to be reminded of the support that institutions like this have in the wider arts community.

I went to the school meeting on Tuesday where Dr Jane Montgomery Griffiths spoke to the students about where the degree was heading and this comes from the notes I made there.

Essentially this week has seen the best possible outcome for the department. Unfortunately, the identity of the course has changed and new students will no longer be graduating with a Bachelor of Performing Arts. Rather, they will graduate with a Bachelor of Arts with a major in theatre and (if they chose this particular stream) a minor in performance. There may perhaps be less of a practical component in the performance minor but the theatre major is working to actively blend theory and practice within classes that had previously been just one or the other. No redundancies will be made. It is a unique degree and, at the moment, it will remain unique in all but name. It is sad to lose the identity of the course in this way but I want to put down here what I said at the meeting.

Look. I was at the Victorian College of the Arts when the Save VCA protests were in full swing in 2009. There was a 10, 000 strong march down the streets of Melbourne. ABC News, Channel 9 and Channel 10 were all there. Geoffrey Rush, Julia Zemiro, Noni Hazlehurst and a string of politicians and arts activists spoke on the college’s behalf. Students camped out on campus for a week and ended up on very friendly terms with the police who checked in with them daily. There were flash mobs across the city: ballet exercises on Flinders Street Bridge, a mass performance of R+J’s balcony scene at Southern Cross Station and semi-nude men running through the city covered in slogans each morning. It made no difference. Melbourne University had decided and the changes went ahead.

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What this weekend has proved is that Monash University is terrified of bad publicity. A facebook page was liked 1100 times in a single day and an outstanding protest song sprung up and was shared around. This was a terrifically swift response and yet so tiny compared to what would have come had the Administration not responded and it was microscopic compared to the Save VCA protests of 2009. Monash underestimated their students and their alumni. On the most basic level, they underestimated us to such an extent that they did not believe I had written my letter, presuming a lecturer had penned it. Well yes, I did have help: a first year BPA student proofread for me. (Thanks, Ari.) Dyslexic Fleur needs some help with commas. Mind you, I spelt the Vice Chancellor’s name wrong so you would have thought that would be a give away.

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So they underestimated us and were very surprised and they scrambled to respond. Right now, the course has been saved in all but name but arts’ funding and arts education is always in danger. We can never relax. It is now up to the students to watch the transition into the new course and monitor that it is up to the standard that you have come to expect from this wonderful University. Current students will be able to finish the degree they started but check in with your new first years: ensure they are happy with the way their course is unfolding. Tell them how you fought for their right to be a part of this degree, that you have amazing staff dedicated to giving you the best possible education. Tell them how fast their university responds when faced with potential embarrassment.

But enjoy this! This truly has been a wonderful outcome and I am thrilled. The staff are amazing and the love that students and alumni have for the BPA is so special. I know the name is a loss but this is an industry in which you don’t just hand over a slip of paper and get employed on the basis of where you went to school. In every interview, when your degree comes up, it will be your job to say ‘this is what I got from my time at university and this is how I can use it in a professional context. This is what makes me unique.’

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A programming note:

I am currently in full-time rehearsal and in the final two weeks of my Masters course so I will be writing a bit less in the coming weeks. For this reason, I will be bringing in a few more guest bloggers and I am so excited to have the opportunity to bring you the words of some outstanding artists. Talking with some amazing people and may also be running a few interviews. If you are interested in writing something as a guest for School For Birds or know someone you would like me to interview (or that you would like to interview), please contact me here, on facebook or at fleurskilpatrick @ gmail.com.

Posts for this blog should not be criticism, (there are critics for that) rather the posts should be written by artists, for artists in a way that continues the conversation rather than declaring itself to be the final word on a show. They can also be thoughts on art, theatre or audiences in general. Posts should be personal and not claim to speak for all.

If you are interested, I would suggest you check out my first guest blog ‘After Simon Stone’s The Cherry Orchard (after Anton Chekov)’ by Bridget Mackey. It is a completely unique response to the work, rather than a judgment on it. I’d also send you to the post that I feel has been my most successful so far which was my response to Teenage Riot, where I simply recorded teenagers talking about adolescence. I love things that are a step sideways from a show. If this interests you, please let me know as I am scheduling myself down to fifteen-minute slots right now and would love to keep this blog as active as possible in these next few weeks.

Also a thank you and shout out to Jane Howard, one of my favourite arts writers in the country. Thank you for giving School for Birds a nod at the Wheeler Centre’s Criticism Now panel. I have so much regard for your work and it made my year to hear you say that. Thank you. Be sure to check out Jane’s work in publications such as The Guardian but also follow her blog where she posts delicious, long-form responses to art and our industry.

All photos for this post were shot by me in 2009. I’m not sure why I de-saturated the middle photo but I have no time to go and find my original to re-edit.  

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