I have had a week of the strangest dreams with mixes of friends from all stages of my life all jumbled up and including last night Samuel L Jackson coming to return a coat that did not fit. It's not the moon but the 50th anniversary of the drama degree that I took at Exeter University. It was a rare beast set up by young theatre makers who were influenced by studio based laboratory style practices such as were happening in Poland with Jerzy Grotowski, or with Peter Brook's long rehearsal processes and long cycles. The brain child was John Rudlin who brought us his knowledge of Commedia del Arte, Dadaism and Surrealism. It was made possible by the genius mind of Shakespeare expert Professor Peter Thomson, and various others such as Les Read, Nick Sales and Glendyr Sacks.
What was unique about it? Many things but particularly the idea that a British university would offer a practice based course as opposed to looking at historical or literary aspects of theatre. It was a pioneer. The inspired and intelligent team fought also for assessments based on practice so out of the nine parts of our final assessment seven, if I remember correctly, were practical.
We had studio spaces. Another fight was to acquire and maintain the Roborough which had been a science lab as our performance space. It was a huge flexible space with beautiful tall windows and scary basement vaults that I never fancied going into.
What is more in my year back in the eighties the numbers were capped so that there were eight of us doing single honours drama and twelve doing combined with English and one or two more combined with German. That meant that for three years we worked together constantly so it was as if we were a mini theatre ensemble.
I think I will need many posts to put the experience into adequate words. We were young. far from home and swimming in a sea of creativity that was as overwhelming as it was wonderful. There was sweat and confusion. What held it together was the vision and flare of the founding team, including the strong presence of Les Read, Dorinda Hulton, Nick Sales and Glendyr Sacks.
We were kitted out with black karate suits, black leggings (which were the limit for most of the guys) and a black leotard. The idea was to take out personality from the process of the rehearsal room - these were laboratory theatre concepts - somewhere between Peter Brook's "Empty Space" and Grotowski's "Poor Theatre."
The truth is that it took years to be able to balance such an intense, exquisite and strange three years. We didn't have modules but worked on a theme or concept for five weeks leading to a performance. For this reason fellow graduates have become dramaturgs, opera directors, fine artists, writers, headmasters, community centre leaders, academics, researchers, and think there is even a diamond merchant - in other words people who found their own weird life combinations.
Five weeks of full time hours on themes like Kathakali dance drama; Mask work and Commedia; the structure of a Shakespearian five act history play (including writing and performing our own); and so on.
The feather in the cap was the final third year project which was to make 20 minutes of theatre - anyway, anyhow you wanted but with the rule that it had to be 20 mins. We acted in each others and each took responsibility for the tech in one discipline so I was one of the sound team.
I think I'm glad that this was all before mobile phone and even video cameras. So we were just making and doing constantly - most of it quite bad but with much enthusiasm.
My karate-suit's trousers ended up being faded and softer than a cloud. In my last move they got thrown out which in this 50th anniversary nostalgia, I know regret.
If I've learnt to make it up as I go along it was from these years. There were mistakes and it was damn confusing at times yet finally a catalyst for nearly all the other stages and impulses in my life.
So it brings me great joy to see faces I have not seen for many years, and to be able to feel all the same hope, desire, enthusiasm, emotion, vulnerability, tenderness and passion.
Youth is wasted on the young, of course. And as Picasso said, "It takes a long time to become young.”
I am enjoying from afar this 50th anniversary which far from making me feel old, makes me feel extremely young and more determined than ever to make similar experiences possible for other.
Deborah Claire Procter
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