A-Z of Degrees

Our weekly series designed to help you pick the right course. This week: Drama, Dance and Performing Arts

By Lucy Hodges
Friday 16 August 2013 01:56

What do you come out with? BA.

Why do it? Because you adore the theatre, darling. You are fascinated by its history, you're au fait with critical theory and you want to end up in the performing arts. But you won't be taught how to act. For that you need acting school. Some courses are much more practical than others. Exeter's drama degree turns out budding actors, directors and playwrights. Warwick's degree in theatre and performance studies is much less vocational, heavier on theory and history - and on essay-writing.

What's it about? Lancaster's theatre studies degree is practical, but grounded in theory. Students can't just be in a play; they have to relate their acting to a cultural investigation. "We don't train students to be actors; we train them to be thinkers," says Lancaster's Andrew Quick.

At Warwick, students are introduced to modern theatre practice and develop their responses to modern theatre performance with heavy dollops of history and critical theory. All that is in a European setting. Lots of Brecht and Stanislavsky.

At Exeter, students are steeped in the practice of drama. They learn about production and stagecraft - and specialise in acting, directing or writing plays, whichever is their strength.

Drama at Royal Holloway is a mixture of the theoretical and practical. At Surrey, the degree in dance and culture entails studying other cultures - Indian and African - and learning about modern dance, choreography, dance history and dance policy and management.

How long is a degree? Three years. You can do a four-year BA in dance and culture at Surrey which involves a year in the industry.

What are the students like? Demanding, engaging and hard-working. Three-quarters at Warwick are women. They work very long hours - from 9am to 9pm.

How is it packaged? No unseen examinations at all at Exeter. Assessment is through coursework. Royal Holloway is very similar. At Warwick, 60 per cent is by exam, 40 per cent is coursework.

How cool is it? Very. This is a hot subject because it's the entertainment business. It is very popular. Exeter has around 1,200 applicants for just 50 places.

What A-levels do you need? Warwick likes you to have an A-level in English or theatre studies. It also looks kindly on history and a language. Exeter doesn't mind what subjects you have.

What grades? BBB at Warwick and Exeter. Ditto Royal Holloway except it will ask for AAB for combined English and drama. BBCat Lancaster.

Will it keep you off the dole? Yes, if you're driven. A high percentage go into creative arts or the media. Some do further degrees. Others find work in museums, the BBC, acting, films or advertising. Exeter turns out graduates who work in the social aspects of drama.

Will you be interviewed? Yes at Royal Holloway, Exeter, Surrey. Warwick talks to prospective students at Open Days after they have been made offers.

What do students say?"I chose Exeter because it'sa real mix of practice and theory. I like the choice you get in your second year. I am specialising in dance and I would like to teach afterwards." (Katherine Punt, 19, second-year drama, Exeter) "I have liked the way the course is structured. You are introduced to the technical, practical and ideological elements of theatre and you can choose what to do in the third year. The teaching is virtually flawless. The lecturers are dedicated, interested and off-the-wall." (Kathy Slack, 21, third-year at Warwick)

Where's best for teaching? Hull, Kent at Canterbury, Lancaster, Plymouth and Warwick scored 24 out of 24. Brunel, Dartington College of Arts, Goldsmiths, Loughborough, Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Royal Holloway, Manchester Met and Bristol scored 23; Bournemouth, Bretton Hall, Canterbury Christchurch, Central School of Speech and Drama, De Montfort, Leeds Met, Middlesex, Newcastle, University College Chichester, Exeter, North London, Northumbria, Surrey at Roehampton and West of England scored 22. Glasgow, Queen Margaret College, and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama got highly satisfactory.

Where's best for research? Royal Holloway got a 5*. Warwick got a 5. Birmingham, Bristol, Exeter, Goldsmiths, Hull, Kent, Lancaster, Manchester, Reading, Surrey at Roehampton, Surrey and Glasgow all got 4.

Where's the cutting edge? At Royal Holloway it's in theatre history. At Warwick it's in information technology and virtual reality. Ancient Greek theatres are reconstructed in 3-D modelling. Students can then explore them with the aid of a mouse, testing out sightlines and acoustics. Exeter specialises in actor training and actor theory as well as playwriting.

Who are the stars? Professor Peter Thomson,an expert in Shakespeare,at Exeter; Professor Richard Beacham, at Warwick, for his 3-D modelling which has brought in almost £1m. Professor Janet Lansdale, Dr Emilyn Claid and Dr Marion Kant at Surrey.

Dr Kant is famous for her book on dance during the Third Reich. Professor David Bradby, French theatre; Professor Jacky Bratton, feminist theatre history, both at Royal Holloway. Professor Elaine Aston, Lancaster.

Added value:Royal Holloway has what is called a Noh stage, the only Noh stage in the West, which is a beautiful unvarnished maple wood affair with a pine tree painted on the back. It is based on the Japanese 16th-century idea.

Surrey has a national resource centre for dance.

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