Acting my Age

In this post, Sarah Faulkner reflects on the challenges and rewards of starting a Drama degree as a mature student.
Going to University in my 50’s to study Drama was a big decision. Massive, huge, colossal…. you get my drift. Yet making that decision was curiously abstract, based on a love of performance art, boredom with my job and the desire to do something for fun rather than profit. Launching the idea with my friends and adult children was interesting to say the least. My children in particular tested it to destruction, in the belief that I was having a mid-life crisis. My friends were shocked but not altogether surprised. Happily, they are all hugely supportive now that I am here.
Starting University was a major event. A change of identity from NHS Director to undergraduate student, a change in lifestyle, a new environment, new technology (hello, virtual learning environment….) and more. After the first day, I felt shell shocked. What had I been thinking? How on earth was I going to relate to fellow students who are younger than my children? Who could I realistically form close friendships with? People assumed that I was a member of the faculty, or a postgraduate student. All this amid the whirlwind experience that is Fresher’s week. My coping strategy included doing everything that I was advised to do, such as joining societies, finding my way around the campus, familiarising myself with Blackboard (my University’s virtual learning environment), exploring the library and attending every welcome meeting and event that I thought would be useful.
Two weeks on and I have experienced a range of attitudes and reactions, from being welcomed to being pointedly ignored. And it is ok. For all of us this is a time of huge adjustment and everyone reacts differently. The trick is to not worry about what people are thinking and in particular not to project your own fears onto them. That funny look someone gave you is almost certainly down to too many late nights and their vulnerability in a new and confusing landscape. It really isn’t personal.
One of the biggest challenges has been stopping myself from trying to mother people who are missing their home and parents, and who are adjusting to life in Halls of Residence. I am told that it is best to stand back a little and be there if needed, avoiding any temptation to either act as a substitute parent or attempt to relive my youth in nightclubs and bars. In other words, it is fine to act my age and wait for the surprise at my presence on an undergraduate course to give way to acceptance.
The Mature Student Society has introduced me to new friends, the faculty are hugely supportive, and I have the luxury of going back to my own home every night. My children and my friends are there for me when needed.  What’s more, I love my subject and it is what I came here to study. The final bonus is that in University drama productions I have an advantage in terms of auditioning for roles as an older adult. I can act my age.
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Assessment in Drama – News and Update from Dr Alison Jeffers

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Assessment is an important part of your work in Drama at the University of Manchester. It’s a way of testing yourself and working out what you have (and have not) grasped in a module and it’s a way to work out your enthusiasm for specific aspects of the subject. It’s also, of course, a way to communicate that understanding and enthusiasm to the staff who have taught the subjects that you’re covering. Because we are operating in a formal system of education those staff will deliver a judgement on how effectively you have communicated that learning and enthusiasm and they will make comments on your work as well as awarding a grade to the work that you submit.

In Drama we are guided in how we assess your work by the School of Arts Languages and Cultures (SALC). Our school defines assessment as ‘the process of forming a judgement about a student’s attainment of knowledge, understanding or skills’. Assessment is guided by Educational Principles which govern how much assessment we should set, when it should take place and how to give constructive feedback. We also follow an ethical approach which emphasises fairness in setting and marking assessment tasks, following clear protocols and setting clear instructions and making sure that students understand the feedback they’re getting and how best to act on it.

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You’ll come across lots of different ways to assess your work while at university and in Drama we mostly use essays, exams, presentations and performances. These are obviously all very different modes of assessment and they will need different ways to judge their success. As staff we are guided by what are called Grade Descriptors which offer suggestions for appropriate standards and ensure that we mark fairly and objectively. You can see these on all written work when you get feedback through Blackboard and they may be included in the Handbook for that course. The Grade Descriptors generally look for evidence that you have structured your work effectively, that you have a level of knowledge and understanding of the subject, that you can use sources and that you are communicating clearly. We also assess through practice and we are guided here too by sets of descriptions of different levels of practical work. These focus on preparation and on carrying out a number of practical tasks.

umbrellasThis academic year staff will be working with new grade descriptors and will be using a slightly different system of marking. Most students in their 2nd and 3rd years will not notice much difference. We’ll be using what’s called ‘step marking’ which bunches marks into the top middle and bottom of each grade band. So, work in the 2:1 band, for example, will be marked as ‘Good to very Good’ with 62 (low), 65 (middle) and 68 (high). So not exactly world-shatteringly different! Where students might start to see some effect of the new system is in the First Class category where work is classed as, Exceptional (92, 95 and 100), Outstanding (82, 85, 88) and Excellent (72, 75 and 78).

If you have any questions at all about any aspect of assessment please have a chat with your Academic Advisor. You can (and should!) discuss assessment with the member of staff who is teaching you or who is running the part of the module that you’re working on. Any student can also talk to Alison Jeffers (Alison.jeffers@manchester.ac.uk) about assessment at any point in the year because she has overall responsibility for assessment in Drama.

We look forward to working with you over 2017/18 on all aspects of your work!

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts from a Post-Degree Girl, Living in a Post-Degree World

Having just graduated (it’s been 57 days, 2 hours and 3 minutes… but who’s counting?) Cerys Spilsbury reflects on her time at university and life afterwards…

IMG_8418cFor all of the new students – welcome to the University of Manchester! You are sure to have a fantastic, fabulous and fun-fuelled time. When I first started my degree it was a scary period; I didn’t know anybody on my course or in my halls of residence, and I left with friends for life and co-founding a theatre company without having to blackmail anyone!

If I could go back in time and give myself any tips, it would be to:

  1. Use and abuse your student discount. The saying ‘you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone’ has never been truer. Once it’s gone, it’s unfortunately gone. Sign up to UniDays with your student card or get an NUS card and be sure to carry it around with you at all times. You never know when you’re going to be able to use it.
  2. Sign up to anything that takes your fancy during the Fresher’s Fair. Don’t worry about committing too much to anything – they will all have taster sessions you can go to and try out, and from there you can whittle down your choices. You never know what might come about if you try anything once!

As you get further into the year and your work load starts to build, balancing your study and other commitments is definitely something to keep track of. I learnt this the hard way, but there is a much easier answer: plan, plan, and plan. Make sure you know when your deadlines are – and keep checking! Sometimes you can have a date in your head and then find out it’s sooner than you thought. Lecturers don’t want you to fail, and encourage you to send essay plans to them for feedback – be sure to take advantage of this whilst you can! Their comments are often invaluable and can be the key to raising your mark to the next grade. The sooner you are able to get into that habit, the better it is as you go onto third year and eventually into your dissertation. Plus, who doesn’t love higher marks?!

Speaking of third year, check your blood pressure levels. It’s a busy time, for you and everyone around you. With so many different commitments going on, taking time to relax is vital for both your mental and physical health. Whether it’s in a group or on your own, allocate time each week for you to de-stress and re-energise.

I have to add – something I think is really important to remember is that studying drama doesn’t mean you have to become an actor. There are so many opportunities to explore different areas such as writing, directing, and producing, and even if you don’t enjoy one discipline, there are so many more for you to try. Initially, I came into UoM with a passion for comedy acting, but at university there were more things going on than I had imagined, and I quickly fell into producing, and loved it.

One of my highlights at university, and that helped to develop my producing skills, was getting involved with the University of Manchester Drama Society, and I would absolutely recommend signing up right away at the Fresher’s Fair (or afterwards – there’s no time limit).  Not only did I meet some amazing people but it was also one of the most enjoyable experiences I had during my degree. It also led to co-founding a company, Bareback Productions, and taking the play up to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe independently this summer, where we were able to meet other companies, talk about ideas and managed to bag ourselves a cheeky 5* review as well!

Most importantly, I would say acknowledge that there is life outside of university, and Manchester holds lots of opportunities in it as well. Try not to be overwhelmed, and take things in your stride. Whatever you end up doing, I’m sure you’ll have fun.

What can you expect from your first year of studying Drama at the University of Manchester?

We asked Sadie Stanton who is now going into her second year…

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What kind of things did you do in your first year?

I found the first-year course really engaging – we looked at the history of theatre, studying Greek theatre and then through to Shakespeare and Milton etc.  The film modules were especially great.  I feel like everyone loves watching movies so it was really cool to study them and see how films change as society changes.  Every Friday we had a full day of practical stuff where we learnt different theatre practices and practitioners came in to do workshops with us.  We also devised a short piece which we were examined on at the end of the course.

That’s all very academic stuff, what about outside the course?

The drama society put on lots of plays which are always really good.  There’s a freshers play which is just for first years and I would recommend getting involved in that.  It’s a great way to meet loads of new people!

What have been the highlights of first year?

I think the highlights of first year was just being in halls and meeting loads of nice people. It’s also great being on a course like Drama because it’s especially sociable.

Was there anything that was unexpected?

The most unexpected thing for me was realising that you don’t arrive at uni and meet your best friends straight away! I know that sounds stupid but I expected to meet my best mates in the first few days. Really it can take weeks or even months to find the people you love. Getting involved in as much as possible helps speed up this process and you do pick up and learn different things from all the people you meet.

What’s been the most important thing you’ve learnt?

I learnt never to compare myself to anyone else! (easier said than done). You’re surrounded by people your age, all doing the same thing as you, and it’s so easy to get caught up thinking they’re making more friends, or they’re finding the course so much easier than me. Also, slightly cheesy, but I think the most important thing I learnt was that being nice and friendly to every person you meet goes such a long way as often these people will come back into your life in one way or another.

What advice would you give to someone about to start studying drama at Manchester?

My advice would be balance! Focus on doing some studying because it becomes so much more interesting when you get involved.  But go out and meet people and don’t have any preconceptions about how university is supposed to be.  It took me so long to feel settled but once you do it’s so rewarding!

Congratulations to our Graduating class of 2017.

Last Thursday, 19th July, we were pleased and proud to see this year’s graduating class in Drama processing across the stage of the Whitworth Hall. The proceedings were presided over by Vice President of the University, Professor Clive Agnew, and the address was given by the Head of the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, Professor Alessandro Schiesaro.

Everything went smoothly, apart from the small hiccup when yours truly (Steve Bottoms, head of Drama) accidentally managed to skip over Kate Cranfield’s name when reading out the list of graduating students. (Trust me, it’s easy to do – last year Charlotte Horton fell victim to a similar eyesight malfunction…) Kate got a special round of applause when she was added in at the end of the cohort, thanks to Lee Felvus waving madly at me to catch my eye… (sorry!)

Also during the graduation ceremony, the recipients of this year’s Drama prizes were announced. Since they knew nothing about these in advance, we greatly enjoyed watching for the expressions of shock and delight on the students’ faces. And here they are after the ceremony, looking composed…

From left to right: Hannah Davies, Philippa Franks, Catherine Millar, Roma Havers, and Bethany Woods. (Photo courtesy of Alison Jeffers.)

This is the second time that we have awarded named prizes in honour of noted former staff and students of the department. (For last year’s awards and an explanation of the prize names, see here.)

This year’s prize recipients are particularly noteworthy for the breadth of their achievements. Full citations are as follows (in alphabetical order of prize winners’ names):

 

Hannah Davies and Catherine Millar — Tony Jackson Prize for Student Citizenship (co-recipients)

Catherine and Hannah are receiving this award for their generous and diligent work — over two years — as Peer Mentor Coordinators for Drama. During this time, they have consistently worked to provide support networks for their peers, demonstrating maturity and organizational skill. They have impressed us all with their compassion and thoughtfulness, and have both contributed hugely to the continuing success of our degree programmes.

It is worth noting that Catherine has also been commended by the University’s Peer Support team for her mentoring work. She completed a range of training in order to become an ‘Advanced Mentor’. For her part, Hannah has also committed her time to being one of Drama’s student ambassadors, working at Open Days and UCAS days, and helping staff and prospective students immeasurably. She has even spoken to A-Level students off-campus about the experience of university study. Hannah has also been an important member of the Staff-Student Liaison Committee during her time with us.

Managing these demanding, ongoing roles alongside their degree work is a real achievement. Both Hannah and Catherine have made a consistent and appreciable difference to the Drama community throughout their time in Manchester. The lasting impact of their influence and enthusiasm will be felt long after they have graduated.

 

Philippa Franks – Meera Syal Prize for Outstanding Practical Achievement in Drama

Pip is receiving this award principally for her practical work for the Level 3 Directors’ module. Throughout the rehearsal and production process, Pip impressed everyone with her professional attitude, preparedness and aptitude. The final piece was of an exceptionally high quality, and would not have been out of place in a professional setting. Directing an extract from Mike Bartlett’s play Cock, she drew compelling and nuanced performances from two of her male peers. The scene was raucously funny in a way that felt earned, and grounded in different kinds of ache and confusion. Pip coaxed her actors, within twenty minutes’ stage time, into conveying a natural and believable sense of their characters’ long, messy relationship history. Moreover, the scene was framed within a striking and memorable visual setting — a deteriorating circle of chalk, within which no other props or furniture were necessary. Performances and design played extremely well off each other. Pip’s overall approach to the scene demonstrated a real depth of understanding of the play, as well as a strong ability to collaborate and communicate with others.

Pip also deserves recognition for her work, throughout her time with us, as an assistant in the department’s wardrobe – a role in which she has served the Drama community commendably, and provided excellent support to our wardrobe supervisor. In addition, it should be noted that – across her degree – Pip has frequently performed in and supported the work of other students, to a high degree of accomplishment. Her performance in August: Osage County was particularly commendable for its detail, maturity and control.


Roma Havers – David Mayer Prize for Outstanding Drama Dissertation

Roma receives this award for her exceptional dissertation — a fascinating and in-depth study of performance poetry, and specifically of configurations of gender in the work of three contemporary performance poets. Her study is often strikingly original, not least because this is an under-recognised art form in critical terms. Across each of the three chapters, Roma develops a critical, engaged and insightful reading of the practices of performance poetry. Particularly impressive for a piece of undergraduate work is the criticality with which secondary sources are considered, and the way Roma is willing and able to challenge certain received understandings. Her attention to ideas of presence, power relationships encoded in space, and the relationship between bodies and words is especially noteworthy.

This remarkable dissertation research also provides an excellent example of a student applying their own embodied, practical knowledge in scholarly terms. Roma is herself an accomplished performance poet, who – ever since her first semester here – has become a noteworthy presence in Manchester’s spoken word scene, both within and beyond the University. She performs regularly at a wide range of events. She also edited the Books section of The Mancunion and ran the Creative Writing Society, organising and leading a group of Manchester University spoken word poets into second place at UniSlam 2017, the UK National University Poetry Slam. Roma has now secured a richly-deserved place on the Creative Writing MA at Manchester.

 

Bethany Woods – Viv Gardner Prize for Outstanding Academic Achievement

This award recognises the student who secured the highest overall grade across all of our Drama degree programmes. To achieve this, Beth has performed consistently highly in all her modules – so much so, in fact, that she is also a recipient of a prize from the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures for overall achievement.

Beth impressed all the staff at Manchester from the moment she arrived. From writing and directing the Freshers’ Play in her first year, to creating documentary works about young women’s attitudes to their bodies in her second year, to her consistently exceptional work on her Director’s project in third year, her interest in and aptitude for politically inflected theatremaking has been consistent, and we’ve been impressed by the attitude with which she has approached developing her creative craft.

Beth’s attitude to her academic studies has been just as impressive. Her attendance record is impeccable, her grades are consistently and deservedly high, and her presence in lectures, seminars and workshops has been of benefit to everyone in the room. She’s also demonstrated a commitment to the wider student body, sitting on the Staff-Student Liaison Committee across all three years of her degree. Her conduct and feedback in these meetings has helped us to respond to queries and concerns, particularly for Joint Hons students.

Beth has pushed herself to develop and learn as much as possible over the past three years, and we are delighted by how far she has travelled. She has also taken full advantage of opportunities made available to her beyond the University itself. She has been involved as a Young Creative at the Royal Exchange, and produced her own work independently. Creatively and academically, Beth has excelled in all her work. She could have competed for other prizes too if we did not have a policy of sharing them out among deserving candidates. She richly deserves this award as the outstanding “all-rounder” in her year group.

 

Warm congratulations to all our prize winners, and indeed to the entire graduating cohort. (We would have liked to give prizes to lots of you!) We wish you all the very best for the future, whatever it may hold.

(Do come back and visit us when you can, and don’t be shy to ask us for references when you need them…)

 

Conference – Troubling Time: An Exploration of Temporality in the Arts

Registration is now open for Troubling Time, a two-day conference on 1st-2nd June 2017 led by Drama and Screen PGRs at Manchester: http://troublingtime.weebly.com/

The conference aims to consider time and the multifaceted ways it manifests in and structures the arts – in film, performance, television, theatre, video games, music, dance, live broadcast, and visual art, to name just a few. At first glance, the arts appear to be unavoidably time-bound, largely dependent on our understandings of chronological time and space. However, the arts are also capable of finding ways for different types of temporalities to irrupt, to disrupt, to resist, and to bubble beyond the surface.

Troubling Time is an interdisciplinary conference that aims to bring together postgraduate students, early career researchers and established academics to explore the issues of time and temporality in the arts.

Keynote
Professor David Wiles (University of Exeter)

 

Lecture by Prof. Tracy C. Davis (22nd March)

A Victorian Woman Ventures Securely into Men’s Realms:
Journalism, Politics, and Radical Advocacy
Tracy C. Davis

22 March, 6pm
John Casken Lecture Theatre,
Martin Harris Centre for Music and Drama

 

Of the 241 Victorian theatre critics known to have written for the popular press, only one is known to be a woman; she, Pearl Craigie (1867-1906), daughter of an American millionaire and a well-connected socialite, concentrated her efforts on writing fiction and plays.  In stark contrast, new research makes a claim for a significantly earlier exponent of dramatic criticism.  Amelia Chesson (1833-1902) was the lower-middle-class daughter of an anti-slavery lecturer, George Thompson, well-connected in the sense of knowing the leading Radical activists of her day but never coming to prominence in her own right despite a lifetime of reviewing live art, starting with the Liberal daily The Morning Star and concluding with a long stint as book reviewer for the Athenaeum. Focusing on the onset of Chesson’s career, this research asks how a middle-class woman could undertake such work in the 1850s.  Evidence from Chesson’s diary (and that of her husband) demonstrates the kinds of spectatorial activities and social networks that first brought her this work, then sustained her ability to perform it on a semi-regular basis.  What is particularly interesting about this case is not just that she represents a “female first” but rather how she garnered the expertise to make the work possible, when her fertility made it impossible, how she managed it in conjunction with domestic responsibilities, the assignments considered appropriate for or by her, and the practicalities of evening work and early-hours deadlines that she met.

Tracy C. Davis is Barber Professor of Performing Arts at Northwestern University (Evanston, IL, USA) and Visiting Professor at the John Rylands Research Institute, University of Manchester. Her work on 19th-century British theatre history, gender and theatre, theatre historiography, and performance theory has resulted in numerous books, including Actresses as Working Women: Their Social Identity in Victorian Culture (1991); George Bernard Shaw and the Socialist Theatre (1994); The Economics of the British Stage, 1800-1914 (2000); Theatricality (2003); Stages of Emergency: Cold War Nuclear Civil Defense (2007); The Broadview Anthology of Nineteenth-Century British Performance (2011); The Cultural History of Theatre (6 volumes, 2017), and Uncle Tom’s Cabins: the Transnational History of America’s Most Mutable Book (2018).

Her current research is based in the John Rylands Library’s Raymond English Anti-Slavery Collection. These letters, diaries, and scrapbooks demonstrate how two generations of British abolitionists aligned their efforts as rhetoricians to create international then transnational then networks of human rights advocates.