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Flinders drama students stage sit-in protest at campus

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Flinders University Drama Centre students are holding a sit-in protest at the Bedford Park campus over proposed changes to their course, which have also sparked an online petition signed by more than 6700 people.

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As reported by InDaily last week, a recent independent review has resulted in a raft of recommendations for changes to the university’s drama program, including that “an integrated Drama brand be established” and the term “Drama Centre” be discontinued.

In response, the Bachelor of Creative Arts (BCA) Drama intake has been paused for 2021 while the course is redesigned.

The university said in a statement on Friday that an increase in “contemporary and innovative topics” was at the heart of plans to reposition its drama offerings, with acting vice-president and executive dean of the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Professor Peter Monteath, adding that further consultation was planned to determine which elements of the report would be accepted.

However, this has failed to allay the concerns of students and others in the arts sector.

A “Save Flinders Drama Centre” rally was held outside Flinders’ Victoria Square campus on Monday and the number of signatures on a change.org petition protesting the changes continues to grow.

At 4pm yesterday, Flinders Drama Centre students began what they describe as a “peaceful sit-in protest” at the centre in response to the review.

“We have no intentions of stopping until our requests are heard, and if the university wishes us to cease the protest, our list of demands must be met,” they said in a statement.

Their requests are that “the university ceases putting any recommendations into actions, effective immediately”, “the university recognise the bias in the review, and that the review be redone ‘with artists, for artists’ including a fair representation of all perspectives and a brand-new panel that is truly unbiased”, and “all current students are able to complete the current program without any major structural changes until the beginning of 2024”.

One of the students, Monica Patteson, told InDaily that 42 students from the Bachelor of Creative Arts (Drama) were involved in the sit-in.

They believe that if the review’s recommendations are put into effect, the current course would be “unrecognisable, and impractical to aspiring actors and directors”.

“Many recommendations were made, including their plan to phase out the Drama Centre entirely in the coming years, and replace it with a Bachelor of Creative Industries course, which will be less specialised and focus more on education and research.”

The Drama Centre is highly regarded, with former graduates including Adelaide Festival Centre chief executive and artistic director Douglas Gautier, former State Theatre Company SA artistic director Geordie Brookman, and actors Noni Hazlehurst and Xavier Samuel.

Monteath said last Friday that a “revitalised vision” for drama at Flinders would be crafted from the review, with graduates today requiring a wide suite of skills to navigate the “fast-changing creative landscape”.

“In addition to traditional pursuits in areas such as acting and production, we’re seeking to introduce specialities  in contemporary and emerging fields, such as digital development, motion capture, and voice acting for games,” he said.

Offered the opportunity to comment this morning on the student protest, Monteath said: “We respect the students’ actions, and will be meeting with representatives tomorrow to discuss the review. We also invite and encourage students to give their feedback to the report.”

Patteson said the sit-in was taking place across different parts of the Drama Centre and was not hindering creatives and other industry professionals using the space.

“We do not want to attack the university. We are trying to ensure our educations, the educations of future artists, and collaborate with the administration in order to ensure a positive outcome for the Drama Centre, and art in South Australia.”

The students are also planning to produce and livestream creative performances during the sit-in.

Greens MLC Tammy Franks has thrown her support behind the protest, saying arts education is being eroded “bit by bit”.

“This is the only drama school of its kind in Adelaide,” she said.

“This restructure will have a devastating impact on students, and on South Australia’s arts community over the coming years.

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