Should I do a Theatre degree?

by Catherine Brabin

Hi, I’m Catherine, a first-year Theatre student here at Lancaster. Taking a degree in Theatre was a difficult decision for me, as despite doing a lot of research it was hard to find out how combining performance with academia would work, and if I would like it. As I’ve found I love the Theatre course at Lancaster so far, I thought that writing down what I get up to this week could give those of you who love drama some insight into whether a degree in Theatre could be something you’d like to pursue.

Wednesday 15th January

Every Wednesday I have a 10am lecture, looking at a new topic each week. Last term we covered drama through the ages ranging from Shakespeare in the 1600s to more contemporary practitioners such as Brecht. To start the new term off we’re continuing this timeline of theatre and looking at postmodern practice. My lecture this morning, therefore, focused on the relatively new ‘applied theatre’, where theatre is used to aid the community, such as in education or within the NHS. As I’m interested in teaching, I found this lecture particularly interesting and something to think about researching further for our practical group pieces which we will be starting in the next couple of weeks.

A laptop and some books

Thursday 16th January

Ah, yes, reading. No matter what your degree subject, independent reading and research takes up a large portion of time outside of contact hours. For example, next week we will be studying the postmodern play 4:48 Psychosis by Sarah Kane, so I’ve spent the afternoon reading it in advance as it’s good to get ahead. Alongside the core text, a piece of extra reading on postmodernism has been set in preparation for our exploration of this genre, so I’ve read this and made some notes as I find it useful to narrow down academic writings into key bullet points which will come in handy for revision.

Friday 17th January

Each Friday we have a three-hour practical workshop, putting into practice the theory covered in Wednesday’s lecture. As this was on applied theatre, and the applied theatre practitioner Augusto Boal, we spent the afternoon putting his techniques into action. Applied theatre aims to improve society through theatre, and in turn, allow the general public to influence theatre with their own ideas. We, therefore, spent the workshop divided into groups creating two-minute pieces on important social issues in the modern-day, such as the prevalence of social media in young people’s lives. After performing these pieces, we utilised Boal’s method of allowing audience members to suggest how these issues could be resolved and encouraged them to step into the actors’ shoes to implement their ideas. The workshop was certainly food for thought, as it gave us an idea of what it would be like to run our own session in the future.

Saturday 18th January

If you’re wanting to get more performance experience outside of your degree, I’ve found there are so many opportunities to do so at Lancaster. For example, I spent today in rehearsals for The Roaring Girls, a musical directed by one of the third-year Theatre students. The show is being put on at The Grand Theatre in town on the 15th of February, and if I do say so myself it’s a wonderful production with some amazing numbers and an incredibly talented cast.

There is also a theatre society at the uni, the Lancaster University Theatre Group, which holds auditions once a term for up to four productions, usually including a musical. For those who would rather gain experience in directing and designing over performance, the society also recruits backstage crews to help run each production, so there’s definitely plenty for everyone!

A poster for a theatrical production of the Roaring Girls
The Dukes theatre

Monday 20th January

Today is a busy one! I’ve just submitted my first Theatre essay, a 2,000-word piece of work which makes up 20% of my overall grade for first year. While first-year doesn’t count towards your final degree mark, you do need to pass in order to continue on the course, meaning this essay is important. We were given a wide range of questions to choose from, meaning we could each choose a topic covered in the first term that we found interesting and felt most confident in. So, although essays are never easy work, everything that you choose to write about will broaden your knowledge and will hopefully be something you’ll enjoy learning more about.

If you’ve read any of my previous articles, you will also know that I recently applied to volunteer teaching secondary school students drama at The Dukes theatre in town. I was given the role, and so I’ve spent the afternoon at the theatre meeting the Creative Director and going through some safeguarding training. I’ve volunteered at a couple of sessions before Christmas and loved organising drama games, helping the students to create small pieces, and giving feedback on their work. This term we’re working on a group devised piece which will be performed at the theatre in the spring, and I can’t wait to see where it goes!

Final Words

I hope that getting some insight into my week has given you a good idea of what a Theatre degree at Lancaster (and in general) involves, and has helped you to think more about whether pursuing theatre in an academic setting is something you’d consider in higher education. Deciding what you want to do after college can be very challenging, so no matter what you choose I wish you the best of luck and hope everything goes well!