Monday, 19 December 2011

It's not just about the hat...

On Monday 12th December 2011, I became a graduate of the Central School of Speech and Drama, with much gown-tweaking, hat-throwing, men in drag, enthusiastic clapping, and general Drama school, jazz-hands merriment.

It was actually a wonderful ceremony. With both a twin sister and an older sister (Dr. Rachel - who, we have joked, collects universities), my parental group have attended their fair share of university graduation ceremonies, and even they agreed that Central won hands down (it wasn't cold, there weren't long speeches in Latin, even though it was December it was sunny...). It was both a moving and entertaining event; it was so lovely to see so many of my MA cohort again (although sad that some of the international students weren't able to be there) and also to see all of the undergraduates celebrating.

The best thing about the ceremony was that it was a celebration of the arts, and the power of the arts. Both Prof. Gavin Henderson and Michael Grandage gave very powerful speeches, as did those introducing the very exciting Honorary Fellowships: Joseph Seelig and Helen Lannaghan introduced by William Burdett-Coutts; Bette Bourne ('honorary fella....ahem fellow' - what a legend!) introduced by Mark Ravenhill; and Carrie Fisher introduced by Debbie Reynolds.There was a great sense of fun and humour in all of the speeches, and I loved the fact that at least two male students receiving their qualifications were dressed in drag - the PhD student who went through a process which appeared not dissimilar to being knighted was wearing EPIC high heels! Some of the other students, however, could (in my humble opinion) have taken more careful consideration over their choice of footwear, as half my row held their breath as some of the female students tottered their way across the stage. Only at Central can the men walk in high heels more gracefully than the women...

My drama (with a small 'd') of the afternoon was that I temporarily lost my mortar board, and spent the whole of the slightly unusual dance piece at the start of the show desperately scouring the floor and passing notes reading: 'Have you seen my HAT????' Fortunately, we didn't have to wear them on stage, and - with a jubilant flash of realisation - there was a perfect moment to rectify my loss of hat: when all the other students threw theirs into the air with carefree abandon! Ha! Kate once more had a hat. I'm not a bad person; there will have been a spare one lying around somewhere (wherever the hell I left it). And really there's a life lesson there: never throw your hat too high....

On a serious note: the best thing about the ceremony was that it was a public celebration of new talent, a coming together of adults of all ages who are hopefully about to embark on exciting careers in the arts. Maybe even wearing a golden bikini one day and being the subject of a whole genre of male (and female) fantasy. Or just making a difference: entertaining, harnessing the power of the arts, using drama for social and political purposes. It is a sad fact that the arts do not always get the public and political recognition they deserve, but there we all were: all together, clapping til our hands were sore, for students who cared - really cared - about the arts.

I recently learnt from news from the Social Arts Network (SANe) that the Office of National Statistics (ONS) is currently consulting on the first set of national well-being measures, and SANe, Play's the Thing, ArtsProfessionals and the Happy Museum Project were exclaiming their dismay and shock that current proposals do not include specific measures related to Arts and Culture. They stated:

'If cultural activity is to be at the heart of future government agendas, it is vital now that the cultural sector starts to shout loudly about the contribution made by the arts to personal well-being.'

They are working on a co-ordinated response, about which you can read more here.

I take some hope from all that enthusiastic clapping (and some of the jazz hands) last Monday - there is a new generation of practitioners, and some of us are going to try bloody hard to make a difference. Michael Grandage told us to be bold. We will be bold. We need to be.

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