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Art

Portsmouth Student on the Stigma Behind Drama Degrees

A lesson to be learnt on the importance of representing the arts

Third-year student, Ellie Snow was fifteen when she started acting, but the journey towards getting to where she is today hasn’t come without hurdles and criticism; something she’s still not free of.

Speaking to Snow at a local coffee shop, she admits, ‘I have a lot of anecdotes actually.’ She takes a sip of her drink and then explains her frustration over how careers in theatre are hardly ever taken seriously. ‘I remember talking to a careers officer in high school, and we all sat down and talked about what we wanted to pursue after we finish school. So, I told her that I wanted to continue with acting. And she looked at me dead in the face and said “No, no, I said career, not hobby.”’

“The fact that people still disregard the importance of theatre should not be a deterrent, in fact, it highlights that there is a calling for more passionate people like Snow to keep trying to get this strand of the arts recognised.”

The same reaction occurred in college. Snow was told to weigh up the statistics; ‘how many people make it in a profession like teaching compared to how many people make it in acting’, but she didn’t let this deter her. Despite the negativity she stuck at it, completed her chosen A-Levels, and went on to start her Drama degree at the University of Portsmouth.

Fast forward three years and she’s determined that the continuous criticism will not affect how she feels about her degree. ‘Just last week my neighbour asked, “How can drama be a degree?”’ The fact that people still disregard the importance of theatre should not be a deterrent, in fact, it highlights that there is a calling for more passionate people like Snow to keep trying to get this strand of the arts recognised. She laughs before adding ‘How can drama be a degree? What, you mean, how can the oldest art form in the world not be?’

“They’re blind to the level of depth and history in theatre, but also its potential for social change.”

Snow notes how it’s unfortunate how the question ‘How can that be a degree?’ sums up such a large percentage of society’s views today when talking about most degrees in the arts. People fail to take it seriously. They’re blind to the level of depth and history in theatre, but also its potential for social change. Yet, she adds ‘these people are happy to go home and relax with a film or listen to music.’ Note that these are all forms of art, but areas hold a lot more weight in the eyes of society.

‘People don’t realise that art students are doing their degrees because they’re passionate about it. Because it has changed their lives in some way.’

On the week of my interview with Snow she had just completed a performance of The Little Match Girl at Fernhurst Junior School. ‘It’s so nice to see so many young aspiring performers get excited by theatre in education.’ Looking back on her own education, Snow remembers how much these school performances influenced her.

‘You can learn a lot through performance.’ She explains that something crucial like fire safety shouldn’t be taught by textbooks and long PowerPoint presentations as most children don’t learn that way, it needs to be exciting and engaging. ‘That’s what sticks in children’s minds and that’s what speaks to them.’

Later in my interview I discover that Snow hit a huge milestone earlier this year when she received a nomination for best actress by DV mission (an annual 48-hour film competition). For her it wasn’t winning that mattered, it was the fact that she had finally received some recognition after all her hard work. ‘When I talk to people about what I’ve achieved, they slowly start to see how much more drama and performance is. It’s the naivety in people that makes them unable to see how important and amazing it can be.’

I ask Snow what her ‘end goal’ is, what she really wants out of this degree. ‘I want to change lives through performance. If I can change someone’s opinion or change their life in any way through acting or directing, then I’ve done my job.’ Snow is resolute about proving the importance of art. It’s a heavy responsibility, but one which she doesn’t mind carrying on her shoulders.

“‘I want to change lives through performance. If I can change someone’s opinion or change their life in any way through acting or directing, then I’ve done my job.’”

The road to success in theatre is never easy, it takes time as well as a tough skin. Snow’s come a long way since high school. Seven years ago, she acted in her first play to around twenty people for her Drama GCSE. Now she’s auditioning for short films, directing, and volunteering in the community to see and contribute towards the impact that the arts has on changing lives.

Snow feel incredibly honoured to have the opportunity to study what she loves. ‘There are constant cuts to arts and arts funding, there’s even a threat to take drama away as an option at GCSE. I’ve spoken to a lot of people who didn’t have the option to study drama at University and it’s just not right.’

This further reiterates the necessity for more passionate actors, directors, and playwrights to continue proving to society how theatre is important. Although we can never fully escape people’s ignorance, Snow is still optimistic. ‘I’m excited about getting more young people involved in theatre and look forward to what the next few years bring for the arts.’

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