Monday, September 7, 2009
How theatre became academic
I shocked my colleagues with these ideas when I was teaching at the university. But the truth of the matter is that what happened to get theatre into academia was a ruse that keeps on growing. Everyone knows how difficult it is to become a professional actor today and to earn a living at acting. The reason is that there are enormously more out of work actors that there are available jobs. It has always been so, but movies and TV has made it worse, since people become enchanted with these media and think they would like to do that for a living. To accomdate those desires professional acadamies and acting studios have popped up like dandelions in my front yard. The aspiring actors are also served by colleges and universities who are offering more and more BFA acting programs which have grown out of their theatre or drama majors. Almost every college and univestity has a theatre program, producing plays and offering a curriculum of theatre classes. How these got started in the colleges is an interesting story. First, of course, Greek and Roman plays were studied in the Renaissance Academies which starting in the 15th Century set the model for our colleges and universities. Greek and Roman plays were read in grammar schools for years as long as those languages were taught there. Then famous playwrights' such as Shakespeare and his contemporaries and Moliere and his contemporaries were added to the literature classes in colleges and universities, then classes in drama were added to the English Department classes. Colleges and universities produced plays that students volunteered to work on. No matter that plays are not literature, a discussion comming up on this blog, they could be taught as though they were are they still are in schools at all levels from middle schools on up to universities. Now back in the 19th or early 20th Century, out of work actors talked their way into faculties which taught drama. It wasn't long until they began to add other theatre classes until there was enough of a curriculum to start a separate department. More and more out of work theatre people were hired as faculty. More degrees and classes were added to accomodate the interest of the prospective students, and here we are. Theatre sneaked in the back door of academia as a ruse to provide employment for out of work theatre people. This practice continues as more and more out of work professionals are hired at every level of education.