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UTAS Theatre and Performance course, Inveresk – Impacts

[4.11 p.m.]

Ms ARMITAGE (Launceston) - Mr President, we have a wonderful creative arts community in Launceston. I know because I have been involved with the School of Visual and Performing Arts and was the chair of CentreStage Dance Company for many years after Don Wing; the member for Rosevears, Mr Finch, might have been chair of CentreStage before Don.

It was unfortunate CentreStage was disbanded, but it was not the choice of the board. We appreciate changes occur and there was little we could do about it. They went from CentreStage to what they called Next Stage. As the member for Rosevears said, we had some wonderful people in CentreStage. From my time there, I remember Paige Rattray. I acted with Paige in a performance at the railyards called Death in the Railyards. It was one of Paige's first acting positions as a student at the School of Visual and Performing Arts with Travis Hennessy, Liz Bennett, Troy Ruffels and Cheyne Mitchell.

Ms Rattray - She has certainly done very well, and all the family are very proud of her.

Ms ARMITAGE - Absolutely. I catch up with her from time to time; she tends to frequent the Royal Oak. Ivan Dean and I had a meeting last week with the Executive Dean and Pro Vice-Chancellor of the College of Arts, Law and Education, Professor Kate Darian-Smith. She was forthright and forthcoming with information and said they had decided to discontinue the Bachelor of Contemporary Arts with theatre sitting within that particular degree.

When she took up the role in 2017, they looked at how they could grow theatre numbers. Two new staff were put into continuing positions in theatre and the course was looked at in more detail. It was then proposed to move the course from one they considered made sense in the 1990s by making it into a contemporary course that would enable graduates to find work and pursue their passion.

We were told numbers were down to around 40 students across three years and to make the course truly viable, they needed over 100 students. Professor Darian-Smith stated the curriculum needed to be reformed to try to reset it to attract more students, including, hopefully, some from the mainland and internationally. That was mentioned by the member for Rosevears.

It needs to be stressed that Professor Darian-Smith guaranteed us that theatre will definitely remain in Launceston and will only be offered in Hobart if course numbers increase largely, and not instead of.

Mr Finch - This has to be the first step.

Mr Dean - Same as nursing.

Ms ARMITAGE - Same as nursing, but you have to bear in mind we kept nursing because we kept on top of it. We did keep nursing and we will keep theatre.

Ms Rattray - Will it still be based in Launceston?

Ms ARMITAGE - Absolutely. The theatre program has been moved from a stream in the Bachelor of Contemporary Arts into a major that is a stream in the Bachelor of Arts. The decision was made that in this larger degree, students choosing theatre would not only have more choice in electives, but it would also open up theatre to more students. We were told this was the plan and were advised there had been discussions with a number of high schools and colleges. The transition will be phased in so it does not disadvantage students in years 10, 11 or 12 wanting to go into theatre.

We were also advised that by having it in the Bachelor of Arts, students will have more choice when it comes to employment. With an enlarged major they can do more - they can have other subjects where they can do work placement with theatre groups and festivals. This has been done around curriculum renewal, giving students contemporary and up-to-date experience and training them more broadly for future careers in theatre and arts.

The member for Rosevears mentioned the students who used to take on 12 months' paid work within the theatre, within CentreStage and the School of Visual and Performing Arts. It was a considerable amount of money, and efforts were made to find another sponsor when the sponsor we had for 22 years felt it could not do it anymore. Unfortunately that was not possible and that fell by the wayside.

We were further told that in 2013, Monash had a similar Bachelor of Performing Arts, and with similar change it is now substantially larger and has grown in that bigger context. Professor Darian-Smith said this was one stimulus for review in the curriculum and this gave information for their change.

Professor Darian-Smith said they want more students to do theatre and they want to open up theatre to students who are doing other degrees, such as business, so they can do subjects in theatre as well.

In the Inveresk development they see theatre as being very important and interaction with the campus through the theatre campus as being very important.

The question was asked whether 12 hours face-to-face time is reduced to three hours. We were advised that while there will be some decrease in face-to-face time, it has been made up with other electives that enable students to do industry placements. It has been worked out in a different pattern. Professor Darian-Smith is strongly of the opinion that this will give students a better grounding experience in theatre.

The question of economics was raised. We were advised there are financial reasons, but they are not the prime reasons. It would be disingenuous to say they are not a consideration.

We were told the consideration was much more about the experience for the students and the way an updated curriculum can be taught. They want the theatre program to grow as they could employ more staff in a couple of years.

I will read from an article in the Examiner of Wednesday, 12 September 2018 -

UTAS allays theatre course fix concerns

Concern over theatre programs at the University of Tasmania in Launceston is growing among the city's art community, despite continued assurances from the tertiary education provider.

Reports were made on Monday UTAS had axed theatre programs from Launceston after it revealed the Bachelor of Contemporary Art would no longer be offered in the state from next year. Instead, theatre will now be offered as a major under the broader Bachelor of Arts degree, which the university says would make it available to more students.

However, concern has been growing in Launceston's theatre community, with Three Rivers Theatre president Cameron Hindrum penning an open letter to UTAS.

Theatre units are offered currently under the Bachelor of Contemporary Arts as a specialisation, but not a major, and theatre is not offered as a bachelor degree in its own right.

UTAS Theatre head, Jane Woollard and lecturer Asher Warren said the changes would put the theatre model on a sustainable footing.

'We have been working to improve the program we offer, to grow our student numbers and to open up theatre to many more people,' Dr Woollard said.

'Our students will learn technical skills and will have exciting opportunities to work with festivals and create new work.'

Dr Woollard and Dr Warren said it was crucial the community understood theatre would still be offered and based in Launceston.

Mr Hindrum said he was 'appalled' at the decision, which was one of several that had led to the 'disintegration of the Theatre School' in Launceston.

'I am appalled at the highly opaque manner in which UTAS management have overseen the gradual disintegration of the Theatre School. It is impossible to accurately to fathom the benefit, the richness, the value or the impact this program has had on the lives and careers of generations of theatre practitioners,' Mr Hindrum said.

Professor Darian-Smith told us she agreed that consultation, and that information had not been put out there as well as it could it have been. They took it on board in our meeting.

She was asked whether this change affects the students in Launceston. We were told the new Bachelor of Arts structure gives greater opportunity because students can pick another elective alongside theatre. They can choose from a range of electives that have more choice, including subjects such as psychology, with greater opportunities to have accredited work placements as well.

We were advised the theatre stream will be a broader Bachelor of Contemporary Arts with more pathways to employment. That was one of the issues. I am sure the member for Windermere remembers that Professor Darian-Smith mentioned that it gives them more of a basis for employment in the future and certainly gives them a wider scope.

We questioned whether this was the thin end of the wedge with development next to the Theatre Royal, but again we were told that theatre is not offered in Hobart and will not be offered in Hobart unless Launceston gets to the stage that it is offered in both places, but that Launceston would remain the head of theatre. Theatre will not move to Hobart instead of Launceston. Theatre is a flagship major. If it moved to Hobart, it would be as well as Launceston. Professor Darian-Smith said they are currently looking at Inveresk and the possibility of upgrading the theatre spaces. She said there is a plan to upgrade theatre in Launceston with discussions about improving the Annexe Theatre and other areas at Inveresk.

Professor Darian-Smith said that the new vice-chancellor also sees theatre as a flagship in the north, and that theatre is important as the core. Her understanding was that consultation had occurred with the colleges and with students coming into the course. There had been discussions as well with some of the arts groups in the north but, as we have discovered, perhaps with not as many as there should have been, and that they had also spoken to council people about the changes.

It is important to note the new course is a major in Theatre and Performance within the Bachelor of Arts. We were advised that students can have an ATAR score entry or there is still an alternative entry, exactly the same as previously, so there should be no fear for students worrying about an ATAR score.

The member for Windermere and I also met with two teachers from the course in Launceston. I have mentioned their names previously: UTAS Theatre head Dr Jane Woollard and lecturer Dr Asher Warren. We met with them on Friday and they gave a similar picture to that of Professor Darian-Smith and were supportive of the restructure.

As the member for Rosevears said, we often have cause for concern about university courses being taken away or downgraded in the north, so I believe we need to be ever-vigilant. There was a time when it looked like we could have lost the nursing faculty. I am sure the south was very keen to have nursing, particularly with the Menzies Institute and our medical students being down here, but it did not happen and we have retained it. It is a given that we need to work hard to make sure we do not lose any further courses; we have lost many.

It is hoped that numbers for this new course will continue to grow. I for one will keep a watchful eye on its progress and remain ever-vigilant that our university remains as good as it can be and that we do not lose any further courses, but pick up courses.

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