This is a question posed by Tuirenn Hurstfield, a lecturer from the third year of my undergraduate degree in musical theatre. In his blog, he discusses the apparent lack of drive he has found in his students: “I have been working with students for five years, and have been seeing a decline in ‘hunger’ and wanton desire to excel in the performing arts.” This is a very contentious subject and as a young person my first reaction was to go on the defence, but the more I read of the blog and other articles I do wonder if something is amiss.
When I started my degree I intended to only stay one year before re-applying for drama schools. I saw it as merely a pit stop on my road to being a famous actress. Before Christmas 2007 we auditioned for our first shows. I sang ‘Love, Look Away’ from Flower Drum Song, which one of the lecturers doing the auditions told me was one of his favourite songs – so no pressure! In the feedback I received from one of the teachers he had labelled me “floppy sausages”, which I assumed was an insult at the time, but he essentially meant I had the potential but I wasn’t reaching it. Other lecturers agreed on this nickname and it quickly became a term of endearment. By the end of my second year I had changed my mind completely about being a performer – I found I didn’t have the drive to make it my career or the thick skin needed to endure endless rounds of auditions.
So if there has been a shift in the attitudes of university students, why? Hurstfield mentions the fact that students are now paying more than before, and with that comes a certain level of expectation regarding the course and teachers. Many friends of mine have also voiced the opinion that the rise of reality shows has also prompted an attitude of expecting a career to come to you as opposed to working your way up the ranks. Adam Stadius, a friend of mine (who has attended Newcastle College, Buckinghamshire New University and Central School of Speech and Drama) also highlights the different approach with universities: “People weren’t necessarily there for the same reasons; some want to teach, some might not have had any intention of going on to have a career in the performing arts”. University can also be more about the experience and social highs, whereas drama school tends to be very driven in producing rounded industry professionals.
Yet what I wanted to know from Stadius was if he agreed with Tuirenn about this lack of drive in young performers. As someone who is in his early twenties and been through the academic system and now also teaches, he is perfectly placed to judge both arguments: “Absolutely!” he says. “College and university training requires more work and dedication than National Council for Drama Training schools because it can’t feasibly deliver all the training on a plate.” With his lecturer cap on he also picks up on something Tuirenn touched on too, that lecturers “can only facilitate their [students'] development and suggest strategies through which they may improve”. This may seem negative, but remember that there are plenty of driven students out there, too!
People are masters of their own motivation, and often it is only as you grow that you realise your focus was in the wrong place and that is what affected your drive. Yet that was the beauty of university for me – it helped me find what I really wanted to do. Whether you agree with Tuirenn Hurstfield’s blog or not it is definitely worth a read: “It is hard work, but that is the nature of the industry. Time to consider just how much you REALLY WANT IT!”
Image by: Luminitsa.