Nicholas Hytner attacks drama schools producing theorists

Alas poor Yorick, my leading man cannot modulate his voice enough but he knows all about the opsis of theatre.

One of Britain’s leading directors has bemoaned the deficiencies of the next generation of actors, who he says are being taught theatre theory above drama skills.

Nicholas Hytner, the director of the National Theatre, said the failure to concentrate on the craft of acting would leave actors unequipped to rise to the challenges of the stage.

He said that universities and drama schools were under pressure to reduce the practical content of courses and increase the academic content in order to qualify for government higher education funding.

Hytner, who is conducting a review of the relationship between universities and performing arts for the Government, said: “The most important elements of an actor’s training is vocational craft training: voice, movement and acting technique.

“This process is slow and repetitious and has therefore occupied the greater part of the traditional syllabus in drama schools.”

He said that as the balance changed it was important that practical training in the actor’s craft should not be undermined by the academic requirements of a degree course. “I am not convinced that time spent on education in theatre theory is time well spent in a drama school.”

The result of this approach was that “young actors are not as well equipped as they were 20 years ago to rise to the challenges of the stage, particularly of the classical stage”.

Hytner’s review is one of a series of reports on the future of higher education, the conclusions of which will feed into a key review of university funding and tuition fees, due to start before the end of the year.

Hytner said that he was making his contribution to the debate “not as an educationalist but as a consumer of those who graduate from drama schools”.

He was not against the academic and “theatre theory” side of drama courses, adding that actors with a good academic grounding were “very often better equipped to deal with complex texts”.

He said that many young actors with talent thrived without university education, adding that “for many it would be a distraction”.

One possible solution might be to create a “two plus two” system of a two-year academic foundation degree in drama followed by a two-year vocational training course.

Ross Brown, Dean of Studies at the Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London, said that while university drama departments may be overly theoretical, drama schools such as his own offered purely vocational training.

“We don’t have any exams and there is little written work. Students are assessed on their performances and our courses are all practical and vocational, leading straight into employment,” he said.

Working within the university benchmarking and frameworking system that enabled his school to offer degrees, enabled it to provide added value to students, Mr Brown said.

“It helps them to think beyond the acting skills and allows them to reflect on what they do,” he said.

Full published article at: TimesOnline

PLEASE NOTE: The Drama Student Magazine will be conducting our own research into this and will publish an article in the next issue out in April. If you have a view, please email us

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