This academic year, I began my journey into university life. I started my degree in English and Drama at Queen Mary University of London, a Russell Group University in the heart of East London which is well-known for its left-wing performance practices and dedication to all things weird and wonderful.
Doing a joint honours degree meant I was spending half of my time doing drama and the other doing English (you can read about how I find doing a joint honours degree here), which means I feel like I’ve only had a snapshot of each subject; but I’m liking what I’m seeing nonetheless.
Due to my joint-honours status, I didn’t get to do any practical work until January, so what did I do exactly? Well, drama degrees are actually full of a LOT of theory and historical work. I read five different plays within the space of twelve weeks along with their heavy social/historical/political backgrounds (focusing on Marxism, decolonisation, and second-wave feminism), writing essays as I went. Though fascinating, I’m going to be completely candid and say that I struggled with how heavy the content was – I definitely struggled with the adjustment to the sheer amount of academic reading which was required of me. It was a hard adjustment phase, but I think that towards the end of that semester I had started to get the hang of it. Like almost everyone, I wish that I’d had more TIME: to read, digest, and fully think about what I was absorbing. Drama is pretty hard, it’s very intense and is more than just performing – it takes you into a lot of different fields.
Another module was designed to get me in touch with the city I was in and possible performances around it; for me I’m lucky to call that city LONDON. I definitely had some strange encounters in this unit, and met the loveliest friends (Anushka and Anne I’m looking at you guys). For one assignment, we went to a bar in Canary Wharf which was advertising cheap drinks but was in fact very, VERY expensive. **I PROMISE it was for a project, Mum**, and very, very quiet. Another saw us walking around Wapping with only the guide of an audio description tour. Being guided through graveyards at night in a random place was never on my bucket list, and was quite an experience (I screamed a lot). Drama definitely just take you to strange places. Fun, but strange.
The strange only got stranger as I sashayed into second semester, where I finally took a practical module – something I’d been apprehensively looking forward to since leaving sixth form. As someone whose drama experiences had been focused around classic texts, musical theatre, and straight plays, I think the most experimental thing I’d ever performed was a scene in synchronisation, and an Artaud performance in Year 11 (which everyone has done, right?). Choosing a course at a university which is renowned for its commitment to performance art plunged me right into the deep end, but, in all honesty, I think it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.
I don’t think I’d ever have delved into performance art if it wasn’t for being at QM. Without being exposed to companies which look at performance as more than just “acting” and experimenting with a variety of materials, I’d have probably ended up just wanting to “act” in shows rather than to want to think more about what performance is, and feel like I want to create some very different things.
One of my highlights of my drama year has to have been my final (and only?) first year performance, based on Chekhov’s The Three Sisters (I actually really hate this play – so classicists shoot me), wherein I basically spoke some mashed-up lines from the play and ate a LOT of cake over the course of ten minutes – all with the pretence of the upper-class talking about work, but actually just gorging on everything that is put on their plate with no effort from them. It was very messy, but a hell of a lot of fun to put together, and made me think a lot about how a performance is not always necessarily about the performer themselves, but what they do to the focal objects and themes given. Seeing the third-years Performance Composition pieces definitely added to that – they were all so unique and took performances in ways I’d never seen before. It was a great night.
Drama is also a very social degree. There’s not too many people in the cohort in comparison to, say, English or History, so you’ll end up meeting a lot of people across the years. I found that quite daunting – I’m not too great at being outgoing at the best of times and often have a face which means I look bored and disinterested (which I’m not! I am so super hyped about everything!). Being a social degree, there’s also a lot of events happening at once, whether that be trips to see things, auditions for plays, or invitations to see these plays you may have auditioned for (and not gotten into…weep). In fact, a lot of the things I got out of Drama this year were from my involvement with the university’s student-run theatre company, QMTC. Though I didn’t get cast in anything until around February, just watching the shows the second and third years had created had a pretty big impact on me; being around the older students and seeing their creativity, drive, and all of the wonderful things they’re doing has made me excited for the next two years of opportunities, and made me want to work harder and get even more involved.
I think that’s what I’ll say to any upcoming uni drama students: get as involved as you can (without being annoying) – meet new people, get involved in shows, pitch things, try new stuff, see as much of other students’ work as you can. Drama is a collaborative subject, so there’s no point sitting in your student flat just reading plays all day. I’m glad I got as involved as I did, it has definitely benefited me not just academically and creatively, but socially, too, and has definitely increased my confidence.
So, overall, what have I learnt this year? Drama can be very weird. Wonderfully weird. Full of hard work and a lot of reading too, but practising that makes it easier. Meeting people and doing as much as you can also help. Aaaaand…that’s about it, I think. I’m very excited for second year – what would you say to me documenting my thoughts as the semester goes on with things I ‘ve learnt and things that have made me think? Let me know!