Queen's University

Production and Concert Priorities in the Dan School

 

Priority: To choose works for productions and concerts that will be of strong educational interest.  (See Appendix.)

Why it’s important: We are principally an educational institution, so that part of our mandate necessarily governs all our most important decisions. This principle also extends to our commitment to facilitate learning opportunities and environments that are equitable, inclusive, and free from harassment for all students, staff, and faculty.

Why it’s difficult: There are many works of strong educational interest that are nevertheless not suitable for us to do for a variety of reasons. Mainly, these reasons are related to all the other priorities listed here.  There is also the question of which educational interests we have in mind: are we speaking about allowing students to see or hear a historical work that they otherwise might not encounter? Or are we looking at the opportunities for people to grow as musicians or designers or actors? Or are we interested in demonstrating how theatre and music can comment on current issues? Finally, there are some projects that might be of intense academic interest to certain areas but would have a very narrow appeal (for example a newly-discovered but admittedly mediocre work of historical significance).  But unless a performance is appealing both to those who participate and those in attendance, it has little educational power, so academic curiosity must be balanced against breadth of appeal.


Priority: To make the best art that we can make.

Why it’s important: It is only by constantly striving to make the best work of which we are capable that we grow (in skills, understanding, and ambition).  And when we begin to sense that excellence is within sight, it helps us to focus our efforts. If we ceased to try to better the work, what would we be “trying” to do? Furthermore, the educational uses of a production or concert go beyond those who are directly involved in its performance to include all students in our unit, including those who form a part of the audience.  While there are some things that can be learned from a bad performance, there is far more educational value in a good one. Lastly, our productions and concerts are a means of serving the larger community (the university and the city), and to present bad performances is to do these people a disservice.

Why it’s difficult:  Making good art is almost always difficult, particularly where it is an “ensemble” art form, such as theatre or an orchestral concert.  And plainly, however good student artists are, presumably they are not yet already as good as they are striving to be.


Priority: To set our students up for success rather than failure. 

Why it’s important: To take the risks associated with innovation it is essential that we accept that inevitably we will fail from time to time.  However, a failure can be a terribly demoralizing experience.  We are trying to build the confidence of students, and so we need to assign them to projects at which they have a good prospect of success.  Giving a solo to a musician who at this point lacks the skill to execute it or giving a challenging leading role to someone who doesn’t yet have the craft to bring it off does no favours to the performers or to the audiences.

Why it’s difficult:  Getting the sense of challenge exactly right is a delicate matter that involves a certain amount of informed guessing.  Inevitably, the ambitions faculty have for a production or concert occasionally will outstrip the abilities of the students.  Also, sometimes one commits to performing a certain work and only discovers at auditions or later that performers of the calibre one was expecting are not in fact available.


Priority: To offer various opportunities for students to do what they are learning about.

Why it’s important: We are philosophically committed to the idea that theory informs practice and practice informs theory, so having a range of extracurricular opportunities for students to practice what they have been learning and building upon in the classroom is an essential element in their educations.  Moreover, it is important that students have some choice in this matter because they will learn best if they are pursuing what interests them.

Why it’s difficult: There are necessarily limits to how many opportunities are available in any one area.  Consider acting for example: the major productions provide perhaps 30 or so students per year with the opportunity to get on stage.  But we have approximately 300 Drama concentrators, so it is unlikely that we will be satisfying everyone who wants to act.  The same point stands for musicians (a brass section in an orchestra can only be so large), vocalists, technicians, designers, etc.


Priority: To ensure that diversity (of race, culture, background, religion, gender, sexuality, ability, family status, socioeconomic status, or other identity marker) is reflected in our productions and concerts.

Why it’s important: By far the most important reason to want to see diversity among performers and production teams in a proportionate ratio to those who auditioned or applied is because it provides an approximate assurance that each individual person has been treated justly.  Care for the dignity of the individual is the cardinal principle by which we measure the justice of our societies, laws and practices.  But secondarily, it is important because we live in an increasingly diverse society, and for reasons of creating a community that feels broadly inclusive, it is desirable to see the diversity of our present society reflected among our performers rather than merely presenting a reflection of the past.

Why it’s difficult: A commitment to diversity on and off-stage is vital to creating a meaningful learning experience. However, this is an ongoing process and one in which continual conversations are necessary. For example, we must first encourage students of diverse backgrounds to choose to attend Queen’s. Then, to encourage students of diverse backgrounds to audition and participate on production teams requires increasingly diverse programming, and both will cyclically influence each other. Together, faculty, staff, and students need to work together to ensure students of diverse backgrounds are encouraged to participate and given meaningful ways in which to do so, which includes ensuring that auditions and application processes are equitable.


Priority: To create additional opportunities for our female-identified acting students by sometimes making choices that resist the historically male-dominated casts of the majority of plays, musical pieces, and operas.

Why it’s important: About two-thirds to three-quarters of our students identify as female.  Only ever choosing such plays, musical pieces, and operas as offered that sort of gender ratio in the casts might not be a realistic option. Nevertheless, it is desirable to ensure that, in the long run, there are some rich and interesting roles for women in the works that we choose.

Why it’s difficult: Most of the plays written throughout history have had majority male casts, so unless we decide never to do any such play (meaning that many plays of educational importance will never be staged), we must either try to have some of the male roles played by female performers, or try to arrange that, in the long run, casting opportunities for female performers will come up in other shows, some of which will indeed have majority female casts. 


Priority: To ensure that, as far as is possible, students are given opportunities based on fair and objective assessments of merit.

Why it’s important: It’s chiefly important because we want to be just, and that means treating people with dignity, assessing them as individuals based on their merits and skills, and not making prejudicial judgements based on considerations that degrade them as individuals.

Why it’s difficult: As everyone knows, objectivity is elusive, so inevitably the best we can do is make somewhat subjective judgements that we scrutinize for fairness.  In any case, we do not have an ideal opportunity for every student, so even having made an accurate assessment of a student’s merits we will not necessarily be able to offer that person a perfect opportunity.  Furthermore, merits or gifts of each kind are not equally distributed throughout the populace.


Priority: To ensure that irrelevant factors or closed minds do not unfairly affect casting or assignment of parts.

Why it’s important: There is no way that we can meet other priorities, having to do with the quality of the work or respect for individual skills if we allow irrelevant prejudgements to take hold of decision-making.  One might have always imagined tuba players as stout men, but if the best tuba player to audition is a petite woman, that’s the person who should get the job; or, it might be that someone very badly wants to play the star tuba part in a concert, but how desperately someone wants something cannot prevail over all other considerations.

Why it’s difficult: For the most part, this priority is not a very difficult one to address.  However, it is true that very occasionally people who are making decisions are driven by ideas of which they are not wholly conscious, and it is difficult to combat this until those ideas are made explicit.  On a different, but related note, occasionally there is external pressure about what decisions should be made; it has not been unknown in the performing arts for actors or musicians to campaign to be cast in certain roles.  The best guard against undue internal or external influence is constant vigilance and self-scrutiny, as well as continued education and development opportunities that promote anti-oppression, anti-racism, equity, and inclusivity training.


Priority: To help students manage their time by not taking on too much.

Why it’s important: This is one of the fundamental skills that all those who work in the performing arts must learn.  The temptation to overcommit oneself, particularly in terms of donated time, is always there, but giving in can be very destructive. The risk of prioritizing breadth over depth, for instance, limits the degree to which students can participate meaningfully.  For students it is all the more complicated because they have courses in other subjects to consider.

Why it’s difficult: Students are free to take or leave advice offered by faculty and administration about how they ought to manage their lives.  Even if a greater (more paternalistic) level of control over students were available to administration, there would be a risk of misapplying it.  Those who run themselves ragged keeping up a part-time job as well as studying and participating in extra-curricular activities may feel well-justified in their reasons for doing so.  Perhaps the best contribution the administration can make is to encourage students to be self-aware, and to manage the resources of their personal time and energy in a prudent manner, knowing that a culture of over-work is a wider societal problem tied to health and wellness.


APPENDIX:

Learning Outcomes for Dan School of Drama and Music Concerts and Productions

 

PREAMBLE: Concerts and productions are a cornerstone of the creative work of the Dan School. Significant resources of time, money, and energy are invested in this work. We believe that concerts and productions contribute in important ways to student learning. We believe that all our work must foster inclusion in all aspects of our musical and dramatic presentations including the selection of repertoire, assignment of roles and parts, process of preparation and the final performance. In support of these beliefs, we have articulated the following learning outcomes.

By the end of their time of study in the Dan School, students who participate in the creation of concerts and performances and/or attend concerts and performances as audience members will . . .

 

  • . . . understand and apply fundamental principles of academic integrity—honesty, trust, fairness, respect and responsibility—in the work of creating performances. 
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  •  . . . gain understanding of a range of musical and dramatic genres and styles from the established repertoire and from newer works that challenge traditional norms.
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  • . . . develop and apply technical and artistic performance skills in order to effectively communicate an experience to an audience.
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  • . . . apply and extend musical and theatrical skills through the performance of repertoire that is appropriately challenging, intended to stretch creative capacity. 
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  • . . . develop and apply skills in various modes of interpersonal communication with peers and with leaders in order to facilitate the workings of creative production.
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  • . . . develop and apply strategies that foster effective, productive, and supportive teamwork.  
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  • . . . openly engage emotionally and intellectually to bring thoughtful, self-reflexive, and appropriately contextualized critical consideration to performance works.
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  • . . . create, foster, and maintain an environment where creative and intellectual risk taking is valued and where that can happen safely and with sufficient supports.
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  •  . . .  understand and apply the principles of engaged spectatorship both as a spectator and as a creator welcoming and facilitating that engagement. 
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  •  . . . develop and apply sensitivity to how necessarily limited personal resources of time and skill are managed to ensure successful completion of the project.