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Very Important day today at UWSAyr in Scotland as it’s the first day of Auditions for the 2013/14 BA(Hons) Contemporary Screen Acting cohort. Drama UK recognition has meant a record-breaking year for candidate numbers ! Good luck to all applicants http://vimeo.com/m/41604817
I have wrtitten previously about the setting up of our UWS collaboration project “Studio Lab” at our new Television Studios at University Of The West Of Scotland in Ayr . We have now reached Week 3 of the project and it is developing at a breathtaking pace.
Ten 4th year (level 10 ) Contemporary Screen Acting Students have worked on creating the scenario, characters and script of a live recorded studio production of approximately 30-60 mins in length. Readers will, I hope, appreciate that this is a substantial piece of work.It will be recorded “as live” at UWS Ayr Studios on December 5th. It will be directed by professional TV Director Michael Hines , who as well as being one of Scotland’s leading directors, also lectures on our Camera Acting Techniques and Screen Drama modules. All the improvisational materials and exercises are being been recorded , edited and disseminated online to the performance team by volunteer Film Making & Screenwriting students as part of this crossover collaboration. The volunteer recording team have put in literally hours of work to ensure that the acting team have the material in an edited form in order to reflect, and then deepen the characterisations which will be eventually reflected in an improvised shooting script to prepare for the live recording.
As the project progresses closer towards shooting, Broadcast Production students will become more involved, so that by the time we record, I expect a team of about 20 strong production team to be part of the behind the scenes efforts to capture the live recording of this experimental drama. Thus around 30 UWS Creative Industries students will have had the chance to take part in an authentic hands on experience which we hope will arm them for the challenges of the Professional Creative Industries.
We have now reached week 3 of the project. So far students have worked on Object, Situation and Interactive improvisations. This has produced approximately 3 hours of edited material. The first part of each session is taken up by watching, discussing and reflecting upon last weeks material. All the edited material has been previously posted on a closed Facebook Group where all the participating students, both voluntary and assessed, take part in creative online discussions through the week.Screen Acting students are tasked with creating three dimensional authentic characters with a backstory, personna, and psychological underpinning which will propel them into the creation of a fully integrated live drama.
Having now gathered a wealth of material, students are engaged in the process of “locating” the precinct within which the final production will be based. Will it be an airport? An institution? A city street? A Spaceship? Inside John Malkovich’s head? The decision of what, where and how the precinct will be will evolve over the next two weeks, so that by week 6, students have a firm grasp of the creative parameters of the project. By weeks 7 and 8, the now located script will be further improvised, developed and honed. At this point, UWS Screenwriting students will distill all the material into a developing script, so that by the time we get to the Technical Rehearsal in Week 10 on Nov 28th, we will have an agreed shooting script which fully reflects the creative input of all participants. We are then planning a final screening in our Campus HD 7:1 Movie Theatre in Week 12.
Next trimester, all the Contemporary Screen Acting students are tasked with writing a 4-6,000 word Ethnographic survey of the lived experience of the entire process. This part of the process is has been devised and delivered by my colleague Dr John Quinn at UWS.
The combination of the two processes, Recorded Artefact and Ethnographic Survey will combine in a 40 Credit Module to complete the Contemporary Screen Acting Research Project. We plan to have all student work submitted in a digital form and be deliverable online in the first ever truly paperless I will update progress with the StudioLab project as it develops.
I have taught Screenwriting and Performance at the University Of The West of Scotland since 2006. Dr Sarah Neely, who at that time was teaching Screenwriting here, originally asked me to visit to deliver a one hour talk on my work in the Creative Industries. At that time the institution was called “The University Of Paisley” . I thought I was agreeing to go and talk in Paisley, Renfrewshire, until the day before the visit I looked at a map armed with the Post Code and realised that I was booked to speak in Ayr. Ayr??? What….Ayr, Ayrshire? Robert Burns? Ice Cream? Butlins? I remember phoning Sarah up the night before and asking her once again…”
“It is Ayr you want me to go to, is it? ”
She assured me that it was indeed the toon of honest men and bonnie lasses, and off I went with my bike on the train, to Ayr the next day. I got out at the end of the line, and outside the station, asked the ticket inspector if he could tell me the way to the University. “Oh aye, ” he said, ” Ayr College….doon there, mate…”
“No..not Ayr College…..the University….” I said.
He drew himself up to his full 5’5″ , cupped his fag against the wind, and said ” There’s nae University in Ayr, son….”
Noting my puzzlement, one of his colleagues paused from rolling a cigarette and shouted over…” It’s Craigie he’s wantin’, Wullie”
With that, a light came on in Wullie’s eye…” Oh..CRAIGIE, is it?….how did you no say?” And with that he gave me pinpoint directions to the Craigie Campus of the University Of Paisley.
6 years later and I am still here.
The New Campus
Now renamed University Of The West Of Scotland after its merger with Bell College Hamilton, and newly relocated in our new £80 million state of the art campus on the banks of the River Ayr, the place I work in now is very different from the leaky, drafty, run down ex-teacher training college I walked into that day in March 2006. Thankfully, there is sign outside the town which says “Ayr..A University Town” , so that even Wullie from the station will now realise that there is a University in Ayr…and a damn fine one at that!
But there is something else that hasn’t changed at all. The students. Oh they aren’t exactly the same student’s of course. Six cohorts of graduates have moved on and made a life for themselves in the time I have been there. But they are exactly the same type of students.A large percentage of them tend to come from the same housing schemes, the same small towns, the same Islands and urban conurbations as they did then.
There is a specific “look” and “sound” to a group of UWS students. I can’t define it, but I can instantly recognise it. I have lectured to MA students in ancient oak and leather furnished rooms at St Andrews: to groups of Film Students in a modern Lecture Theatre at the University of Stirling: to Theatre Studies Graduates in a beautifully dramatic arts “Church” at Glasgow Uni. Every one of those groups was instantly differentiated from my students at UWS. Let’s cut to the chase here. We are talking class. The statisticians don’t talk about class. They talk about “areas of high deprivation” or “lower socioeconomic sectors”. Whatever way you dress it up as, the “look” and “sound” of a group of UWS students is closely linked to the fact that a large percentage of them come from the sort of places that most of the middle class worthies who run Scottish Education only see through smoke-tinted windscreens. Many of my students are the first person in their family to take up Higher Education. Many of them are single parents. Many of them have full time jobs in very low paid areas. Many of them subsist on bursaries, grants,handouts and overdrafts. Over 35% of our Performance Students have special educational needs which are fully supported by our fantastic team at UWS Ayr. I wonder what the equivalent figure is in St. Andrews? I don’t have that figure to hand, but today, thanks to the NUS Scotland, I DO have a figure which has made me proud to work at UWS, and proud to teach my students. More of that later.
The New NSS Survey is out? Oh……great. :..(
When you work at UWS, the release of National Statistics is rarely a pleasant experience. With teeth-grinding regularity, I see the National Student Survey “Performance Charts” which put Oxford , St Andrews and Cambridge at the top, and UWS somewhere…well…. let’s say a wee bit further down than Edinburgh.
Never mind that my students are taught in the most modern Creative Industries University in Britain.Never mind that all the hard work, toil, time, effort and downright passion that my colleagues and I put in to our students learning experience comes to nothing. My UWS students aren’t even included in the National Student Survey. Astonishingly, unbelievably, incredibly, as direct entry third year “top up” students, they don’t even get ASKED what they think of their education. Why? Because the entire NSS system is geared to assessing the thoughts of 18 year olds with A Levels who are studying three year degrees. None of my students, not a single ONE of them, adheres to that biased, Southern, middle class model. Many of my students don’t even have Highers. They left school at 16, maybe took a year out to work , or signed on. Some of them have been Fire Officers, Estate Agents,full time mothers, even a magician! Whatever their past, at some point,at some time, they took an access course, went to a local FE college, and achieved an HNC or an HND in Performance and Acting. They did this in circumstances which were a million miles away from the creme de la creme of the education world who are recruited by the “elites” . This large group of Articulation students is completely ignored by the NSS. Institutions like UWS takes large numbers of these students . We cajole them, teache them, argue with them, are frustrated and infuriated by them, but finally we arm them with an honours degree , self respect, and a practical tool kit to go out into the world and make a career for themselves. And yet my colleagues, students and I have to watch as their progress is completely marginalised as the NSS statistics “prove” how wonderful the “elite” universities are, and how low down we are .
League Table Shmeague Table.
As we all know, the true situation at the chalk face is far more complex than any crass league tables can ever reflect. For example, I am bursting with pride at my two Honours students who achieved First Class degrees this year. They could walk into post-graduate studies of any elite institution in the country if they so wished. However I am just as proud of my other students who have emerged from challenging circumstances and learned advanced criticality, reflection and transferrable soft and hard skills which will help them gain employment or create their own jobs and careers. They want to ensure that their children don’t get the same free meals that they did, and I am proud to be part of that process. Indeed I am literally part of that process, because I too was the possessor of a dreaded free “white dinner ticket” while at school. But none of this is reflected in the cursed tables I see published in the papers every year. And do you know what? I’m past caring…..well…until today……because…..we made it to the top of a table today, and suddenly , I think they are a GREAT idea….so….
Hallelujah! Let joy be unconfined! Let the church bells ring and let laughter and mirth spread through the land! At last, some statistics are published which finally reflect the pride I feel in my institution, and which justify the passion and energy which my colleagues and I put into our work here. UWS has come out ON TOP in a statistical survey! I will repeat that. University Of The West Of Scotland has come out ON TOP! We are the top recruiter of students scoring highest using the criteria of the Scottish Index Of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD)
According to a recent study commissioned by NUS Scotland, UWS recruits a greater percentage of students from “deprived areas” than any other university in Scotland. Of course needless to say, this was not presented as a positive story. Did I pick up my Herald yesterday and luxuriate in the headline trumpeting “UWS Triumphs In Campaign For Open Access” ? Errr….No. Instead these figures were described as “Elite Universities Fail To Recruit Poorer Pupils.” ‘Twas ever thus.
Nevertheless, it IS a positive story for us at UWS! Last year we recruited 1,117 students from the lowest SIMD sector. To give this a bit of context, St Andrews, (which I believe is thought of as one of the elite ) , managed to recruit……..wait for the drumroll……..a grand total of ….13. Maybe we should call them the St. Andrews 13. Maybe they were all from the same Rugby League team? Whoever they are, I really do wish them well, because they must be 13 of the most outstanding students in the country. However it means that while 2.7% of St Andrews students might have got free school meals or had an unemployed parent, the UWS figure is 25.4%.
Not only that, but the elite universities (what a wonderful term that is ) are actually recruiting less disadvantaged students than they did 10 years ago. This means that these august educational institutions , whose senior common rooms no doubt glow with statisfaction at their domination of the NSS statistics, are getting less and less successful in helping the poorest attempt to break out of a cycle of deprivation and poverty than before.
The Blame Game?
Let’s make one point crystal clear here. I don’t blame the elite unis for this. As Alistair Sim, director of Universities Scotland states in the Herald of June 4th 2012
“To deliver significant change in universities, you first need to tackle the root of the problem, which is the large gap in attainment according to deprivation in schools, as recent reports have confirmed,”
Coupled with this, I also don’t blame the elite for wanting to recruit the best students. If I got the chance to recruit a fantastic actress who had gone to Swiss finishing school and had an International Baccalauréat , I would do it in a flash. But I live in the real world too. I am competing against other institutions which are deemed “elite” and superior to mine. I know that because I see it in the League Tables, so it must be true, musn’t it?
Prolier Than Thou?
Of course, The solution to these societal inequalities, as Alistair Sim points out, lies not in the University sector at all. Universities are the symptom of the disease, not the cause. It is in the schools and pre-school system that this canker of inequality is nurtured. The fact that elite schools dominate the intake of elite universities is clearly symptomatic of the effect of pouring massive subsidy and resources into the education of the 7% of British Children who attend “independent” schools. Thus inequality is structurally inevitable if we are to continue to give parents the “freedom” to buy their children’s superior school education. Even the proposed imposition of quotas, through which the Government plans to force Universities to take more disadvantaged students (and which the “elite” will inevitably rail against) , are naught but a tiny sticking plaster on what is a far , far deeper inequality wound in contemporary Scottish society.
The Way Forward.
If we Scots decide that we want to build a fairer society (and the evidence of election after election in Scotland is that we do ) , then the only way to redress our massive societal inequalities is through investment in education and training at the pre-school, school, FE and HE level. At UWS, we can only do what we can do, and I am proud to be part of an HE institution which is clearly and demonstrably doing more to enable open access to HE than any other University in Scotland.
So let’s hear it for UWS, our students, and especially for Wullie the ticket inspector from Ayr whose town has a University which is top of the performance charts in at least one crucial area.
If you want more information on the sort of work our Articulation students do in Ayr, please have a look at the Video below. It was created, written, acted and edited by my third years last term. These students came straight from an HND at FE College, and have no current voice in the National Student Survey. Let their words speak for themselves. Contemporary Screen Acting At University Of The West Of Scotland.
I have blogged in the past about the Commercial Screen Project module at the University Of The West Of Scotland . This is an innovative “real life” project where 3rd Year student Teams use their acting, writing and filming skills create a web video for an external client.
This year I am delighted to reveal that two of the clients for whom the teams are creating web content are Spirit Aid , the Charity set up by Glasgow born actor David Hayman, and the UWS Skillset Media Academy, based in Paisley. Spirit Aid wish to promote their annual Fund Raising climb of Ben Nevis on the 19th of May, and Margaret Scott, manager of the Skillset Media Academy is using the talents of the students to publicise the opening of the innovative Social Media Hub in March.
Students teams have already had preliminary meetings with the management of both organisations to discuss the brief, and are currently researching and planning the next stage of the process.
They are aided by two Industry Practitioners who will be Project Managing the entire process. Director Michael Hines of Chewing the Fat and Still Game fame will be leading up the Skillset team, and Writer and Actor Martin McCardie will be responsible for the Spirit Aid Project.
All aspects of the videos will be researched. workshopped, recorded, edited and distributed by UWS students. Teams are using the skills of 4th Year Contemporary Screen Acting students, Commercial Music Students, and Film Making & Screenwriting Students to ensure that the finished products are of the highest standard.
I hope to blog on the progress of the projects as they develop, and look forward to showcasing the end products towards the end of May
Last week was the first recording run through of the TV Studios at the University Of The West Of Scotland‘s new 80 million pound campus in Ayr. Camera Acting students from the Contemporary Screen Acting Programme were recording the first ever series of screen dialogues at the new campus. Students re-enact duologue scenes from movies such “Juno”, “Bridesmaids” and “Let The Right One In” in order to gain experience of working in a multi-camera studio set up. The above photo shows 4th year honours student Alana Murray working on the production of her multi-media Creative Project with her cast.
Along with the finest radio and music studios in Scotland, UWS Ayr now boasts two state of the art HD studios with Green Screen Technology, Autocue, and top of the range sound and editing facilities. There is space for large scale productions such as dramas, orchestral performances and musical theatre, as well as room for up to 30 students to view the process from the gallery.
The feedback from the students has been very positive. Debbie Lochran commented ” This is fantastic. I’ve never seen a set up like this before anywhere else. You get the idea that you could create any programme you wanted”
Zoe Silver said ” I feel like a real professional. The first job I had to do was to be a camera operator in headphone contact with the control room and it went really well”.
Jess Munro commented “I’ve never acted in a studio before, but within minutes I had forgotten about the cameras and lights and was able to concentrate on my performance”.
As we roll out the use of the studio for the fourth year honours students and post graduates, the amazing potential of this resource is going to be unleashed. Students will be able to create , record and distribute HD broadcast quality programmes , be they filmed dramas, documentaries or light entertainment shows.
It’s a genuinely exciting time for all involved.The first slate of programmes recording in the next few weeks include a Gaelic Children’s show, a modern digitised re-enactment of Tam O’Shanter, an experimental multi-media theatre piece and a Scottish take on the “Creep Show ” horror format.
I hope to post footage of the work as it is created, and release them through the UWS Skillset Media Academy
- Provide students with relevant work experience (eg through the UWS Production Company)
- Provide Continuous Professional Development for individuals and businesses in the Creative & Cultural Industries.
- Produce talented, experienced and industry ready graduates.
- Work seamlessly with industry in the areas of research and knowledge exchange (eg Knowledge Transfer Partnerships)
- Filming eg for the web, awards ceremony presentations, promotional work, training videos through the UWS Production Company
- Training/implementation of social media to promote your business
- Developing a media marketing plan
- Writing for the web / web translations
- Presentation Skills
- Short tailored courses
This is an expanded version of a talk I gave at a Glasgow University Theatre Film and TV Student Employment Forum At Gilmorehill Church On Monday 21st March 2011
Tip 2. Change yourself from a consumer to a creator.
Tip 3. Investigate the blogosphere.
Tip 4. Think Small.
Tip 5. Think Big.
Tip 6. Be Passionate.
Tip 7. Network.
Tip 8. Hang out with creatives.
Tip 9. Be Flexible,
Tip 10.Have a backup plan.