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For our annual survey of arts education this year we’re taking a bold new approach. Instead of asking university departments and training schools what they’re doing, we’ve asked our writers to approach established and often innovative theatre, performance and music directors, choreographers, curators and programmers what they think of the calibre of graduating students over the last 3 to 5 years. How skilled are these graduates, how inventive, how flexible, how collaborative, how in touch with the world and with the markets they are becoming part of? There are all kinds of interesting responses to be found in these pages. Of course, they’re bound to be impressionistic, but they’re professional opinions and no more or less subjective than a teacher’s claims as to the effectiveness of their methodology.

Overall, it seems that the relationship between training institutions and the arts industry is a mutually supportive and sometimes uneasy one. There’s plenty of praise for graduates in all fields and, occasionally, specific institutions. There are specific criticisms, for example Robyn Nevin, Artistic Director of the Sydney Theatre Company is frustrated at graduates’ poor grasp of language: “[they] have little understanding of the fundamentals of grammar and sentence structure, and almost none of the rhythm and music of language.” She is also concerned, as is director Wesley Enoch, about vocal skills. Enoch feels that the focus on ‘internal’ states has reduced the young performer’s ability to reach out to their audience, “to pass the story.” Like Ryk Goddard, Artistic Director of Tasmania’s is theatre ltd, in our survey of contemporary performance training, Enoch laments the lack of an apprenticeship as part of the training of the performer. Enoch also wants graduates to be able to say why they are performers: “The question ‘why’ isn’t asked enough.” New media artist and curator Ross Gibson wants graduates to ask of their creations, ‘why?’ and David Pledger, Artistic Director of NYID, and Alasdair Foster, Director of the Australian Centre for Photography, both look for an ethical and political responsiveness.

In contemporary performance and sound art the issue of training is complex. Key practitioners like Tess De Quincey have developed their practice well outside and ahead of the universities over recent decades. There has been significant ‘catch up’, with a small number of courses evolving here and there across the country. However, these are rarely in the position to offer full-time 3-year courses with the focus on “embodiment” and technical skills and with the resources and skilled teachers that experienced practitioners would like to see.

What is most evident from the responses gathered here is that once your tertiary education is complete your training as an artist is just beginning. RT

RealTime issue #56 Aug-Sept 2003 pg. 3

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