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23rd Nov 2012

What's It Like To Study... Theatre Studies

JAMIE ROBERTSON studied BA Drama, Performance and Theatre Arts at Staffordshire University.

I can remember clearly my drama teacher, Mr. Jewkes, chatting to me during my high school studies in Year 9 and telling me “you should really do this at GCSE Jamie”. Through my time at school I rode the wave a little too much, leaving revision too late and never totally applying myself as much as I could.

When it came to deciding on whether to go to university, I gave serious (although brief) thought to staying in my Saturday job at a department store and avoiding the terror of student debt. Five years later, I am incredibly glad I picked Staffordshire University...and I’ve learned the debt isn’t as bad as I thought.

Originally I chose Drama, Performance and Theatre Arts because performing was something that I loved doing. My plan at that time was to go on to a PGCE and head into teaching; following in the footsteps of my mum, dad, brother and several other family members.

The course was perfect for me, providing a balance between learning of the reality of working in theatre and academic progression. Other courses I’d seen seemed to only offer solely practical or theoretical approaches but at Staffs I experienced acting, devising, performance art, playwriting, lighting, marketing, audio visual techniques and (unfortunately for my friends) even had a bash at singing.

Every one of these modules was delivered alongside essays, presentations and other assessments that weren’t just an add-on to our practical work, but stretched me academically. The background and experience of my teaching staff made this possible. Reading their CV’s and then working with them I realised the team weren’t people who just knew lots about theatre; these people were working in the industry right now.

I also attended two trips to New York organised through the course; experiences that I will never forget. As well as a little time to do “the tourist thing” in an amazing city, we saw theatre on and off Broadway, visited the New York Conservatory of Dramatic Arts, attended a bizarre and exhilarating performance piece that I can only describe as a live art rave and had a go at improvised comedy with working actors.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all rose-tinted and an easy ride. The work was often difficult and days could be long and working in groups presented its own challenges as I had to work with those who shared different working methods, attitudes and approaches to attendance. This, however, is something I’ve now learned to be a real part of life.

You’re never going to work in an environment where everyone gets on all the time and I’ve developed as a person thanks to these experiences.

As I progressed, I began to think about what I wanted to do when I finished my degree. I loved theatre, I loved acting; did I really want to teach? Studying had put me in the right frame of mind to go for it and make acting what I did, particularly because of one of my final year modules.

Here, we were given the opportunity to form a small scale theatre company and produce and perform a play designed to be toured around studio or fringe venues.

Taking control of every element of creating a piece of theatre in this controlled environment made me realise that acting professionally was perfectly achievable. I think I’d made my choice again.

Prior to graduating however, I had gotten involved in the students’ union and ran in the leadership race. I have spent the past two years as a sabbatical officer at Staffs union which proved to be an experience which helped me to mature further, develop those skills that would come in very handy for working in a small theatre company and hopefully do some good things for my fellow students and that organisation. If there’s one thing I can recommend during anyone’s time at university, it would be getting involved with your students’ union.

So after five years of fun, friends, learning and changing at University I have set up a theatre company with a fellow Staffs graduates. This year we toured a one man show around the region, including a performance in Lichfield, my home town.

Mr. Jewkes (or as I now know him, Les) came to see me act as a professional in a real theatre and even gave me a hug afterwards. Funny to think I probably wouldn’t have been there if he hadn’t pulled me to one side in Year 9.

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