A History of Drama in Teacher Education at Melbourne

An essay published by the School of Visual and Performing Arts Education

Originally published in 1994

Angela O’Brien
University of Melbourne

This essay was first published by the School of Visual and Performing Arts Education in O’Brien, Angela & Dopierala, Wanda, The Pleasure of the Company: Drama and Teacher Training at Melbourne 1961-1994.  The publication includes a list of student productions performed during these years.

As in a theatre, the eyes of men,
After a well-grac’d actor leaves the stage,
Are idly bent on him that enters next…..
(Richard II V 2 24)
In Memory of Ron Danielson (1927-1984)
Non Omnis Moriar

Drama in Teacher Education at Melbourne: A Timeline

1958 Doug McDonell appointed as Principal of the Secondary Teachers College
1960 First direct entry students in Secondary Teacher Training (TSTC)
1961 Speech & Drama Department established with  Ron Danielson as Head
1966 First intake into Higher Diploma of Teaching (Secondary) with drama major
1969 Department of Creative Arts (Music and Drama) moves into 117 Bouverie Street.
Offices and studios upstairs and Open Stage Theatre in space below.
1972 MTC and STC amalgamate to become Melbourne College of Education
1973 State College of Victoria at Melbourne granted  autonomous status
1974 Opening of Arts Building and the new Open Stage Theatre.
Drama Resource Centre moves into 117 Bouverie Street
1977 Commencement of the Bachelor of Education (Secondary)
1978 Commencement of the Graduate Diploma in Drama in Education
1979 Ron Danielson resigns to become Director of the Performing Arts Museum
1980 Brian Hogan becomes Head of Department
1982 Final intake of specialist Drama entry students
1984 MSC Renamed Melbourne College of Advanced Education.
Primary students combined within secondary drama major studies
1986 Bouverie Street closed
1987 Drama is subsumed under School of Performing arts – Head John Deverall
1989 MCAE amalgamates with University of Melbourne.
Performing Arts subsumed under School of Visual and Performing Arts Education
1991 Drama Division is split into Theatre Studies and Drama in Education
1992 Final intake of Graduate Diploma in Drama in Education
1993 Final intake of Bachelor of education(secondary)
1995 Proposed commencement of the Bachelor of Visual and Performing Arts
         Proposed transfer of Visual and Performing Arts to VCA

In March 1969, Vox, the newsletter of the Secondary Teachers College, described the development of a new Department of Creative Arts as “the fulfilment of a dream”, particularly for Mr Doug McDonell, principal of the College and Ron Danielson, Head of the Department of Speech and Drama.The new department was located at 117 Bouverie Street Carlton, in a converted electrical goods warehouse.  While  it was in this venue that the Drama Department established its national reputation, the story of drama at the Melbourne Teachers Colleges, and Ron Danielson’s inspirational pioneering work in both theatre and drama in education, began almost a decade earlier.The predecessor of the Drama Department was the Department of Speech and Drama,  established in the Secondary Teachers College in 1961, with Ron Danielson (1927-1984) as its Head.   The establishment of this new discipline area, which was to expand into a major study by the middle of the decade, was strongly supported by the Principal of the Secondary Teachers College, Doug McDonell (born 1912).  Doug McDonell had taken over the leadership of the College in 1958, only 5 years after its inception, and he remained a staunch advocate for the development of the College, including its autonomy as a degree issuing institution, to the considerable opposition of the neighbouring University of Melbourne.  McDonell remained particularly committed to the arts, and fostered the development of the drama program, believing that drama had an important role to play in education and teacher training.[i]

McDonell appointed Ron Danielson, formerly at the Burwood Teachers College, as Senior Lecturer.  His primary brief was to “improve teachers’ voices and mannerisms”.   All STC students undertook a one-year course in Communication Skills, which included classes in mime, improvisation, movement, debate, reading techiques, socio-drama, and interviewing techniques.

During the early sixties a very small group of staff, including Lois Ellis, one of the first NIDA graduates, and, from 1964, John Ellis, were able to establish a major study for an initially tiny group of drama enthusiasts. The first semi-permanent home for the small department  was in the condemned Rural School, on the site of what was to become the Science Education Building.  While the earliest years of the Department had seen a commitment to the teaching of speech and communication, skills required mandatory for teaching graduate, it was the drama aspects of the program which were to capture the imagination of staff and students.

The introduction of the new subject area provoked controversy and concern amongst those who were concerned to see an improvement in the academic status of the College, and questioned the intellectual quality of subjects which involved practical work.  In the conservative early sixities,  the more relaxed teaching methods used in drama,  and less formal relationships between staff and students, aroused some suspicion.  At this time, as for the next thirty years, the College courses were severely criticised by the University for a “lowering of standards”, and “dilution of qualifications”. [ii]    Nonetheless drama prospered in the three year Trained Secondary Teachers Certificate, established in 1961.   Particularly, the quality of the College drama productions was never in doubt.    During this period, Ron Danielson, with his fervent commitment to community theatre,  established the Secondary Teachers’ College Dramatic Society, for a short time restyled as the Thorndike Players, under the patronage of Dame Sybil.  His production of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (1964), featuring Max Gillies and Kerry Dwyer, was described as : “Brilliant!….The ‘Doll’ has the polish and excitement of a professional production.  The night was one of sheer entertainment – an amazingly fine production.”  [iii]    During this period there was also a relatively short-lived Gilbert and Sullivan Society in the STC.

In 1966 staff member John Ellis, after twelve months overseas studying theatre,  was appointed to the staff of the Monash Teachers College to establish a drama department there.  Together, Ron Danielson and John Ellis developed the Melbourne Youth Theatre.  It was an ambitious project  intended to provide :

efficient production machinery for producing plays with young people especially in relation to providing a continuous administration and more sensible management of costs and resources and,
to effectively associate the work of the Secondary Teachers College Speech and Drama Departments with the new Monash Development[iv]

The new venture was to be an outlet for the creative talents of young people between sixteen and twenty-two working under the sponsorship of the Victorian Education Department,  especially the Drama Departments of the Secondary and Monash Teachers Colleges.  It was hoped that the organisation might be more “efficient” that the loosely structured Secondary Teachers College Drama Group Players!

John Ellis and Ron Danielson were the directors, working in close association with NIDA trained Lois Ellis, Lyn Cobern (Guerson) and Max Gillies, all staff of the Secondary Teachers College.   The programming in 1966 was imaginative and daring.  MYT presented three plays, Lorca’s House of Barnada Alba,  Ibsen’s epic,Peer Gynt and Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle.   In 1967, the season was extended to four plays, Beaumont & Fletcher’s The Knight of the Burning Pestle, Brecht’sMother CourageMeasure for Measure, and one contemporary British play, Eh by Henry Livings.

In an evangelical article in VATE Journal (1967) John Ellis noted:

For some years now, student theatre in Melbourne has been disorganised, disastrously inbred, almost completely lacking in self criticism and pre-occupied with the “star” image and show business.  The occasional achievements are individual, and the energies dissipated in Committee polices and heavy applications of eye shadow.  Plays seem rarely to be chosen because their content is so engaging that it must be expressed, and the rehearsal period promises an exciting time discovering not the “style ” of presentation which reveals the heart of a play’s inner meaning but what is titillating or “with it”.  MYT is an attempt to provide such a focus for the creative talents of young people who want to express themselves through a contact with vital plays, under conditions that permit creative expression

Plays were chosen as much for the large cast possibilities as for their place in the contemporary theatre repertoire.  Both Peer Gynt, directed by Ron Danielson , and Caucasian Chalk Circle, used casts of well over 50 people.   The 1966 and 1967 seasons played at both Monash and Melbourne Universities with the College theatres made available by the ever supportive Doug McDonell and Harry Sarjeant, Principal of Monash, and formerly Vice Principal of the STC.  During weekends and term breaks, the departments became “frantic sweat shops as workshops buzzed and sewing machines whirred to meet the latest deadlines.”[v]   Maximum use was made of the College resources during this time.  While the STC Drama department continued to perform some student production in the Rural School, major shows, including the MYT productions were performed in the 1959 Hall.

MYT encouraged exploratory rehearsal periods.  Every production scheduled a weekend rehearsal camp where cast, crew, props and costumes were loaded into cars and transported to a run down guest house in Healesville for a few days of intensive work.   Some of the people who participated in these productions went on to make a significant contribution to Australian theatre, including Wendy Hughes, Jan Friedl, Rob Meldrum, Neil Greenaway, Ann Scott-Pendlebury, the late Fay Mokotow and many more.[vi]

The Melbourne Youth Theatre ran from 1966 to 1971.  In its later years it transferred to the Alexander Theatre, after which it was shut down.   There was less need for such an organisation  by the early seventies when  the Drama Departments were both large and strong, and courses were rapidly expanding.

During the decade of sixties the Secondary Teachers College grew exponentially as McDonell strove to make his mark on teacher education in the Victoria.  The TSTC expanded into a four year degree, and a new four year course, the Higher Diploma of Teaching (Secondary) established the College’s independence from the University.  During this expansion, McDonell’s vision for the College included the possibility of fostering a College of Creative Arts as part of an all inclusive Secondary Teachers College on the Grattan Street Site.

In 1969 this was in part realised by the Creative Arts Department, an amalgamation of Drama and Music.  When the department was evicted from the Rural school and offered accommodation in three temporary classrooms, the students refused to enter them.  McDonell commenced negotiations to obtain a warehouse building in Bouverie Street, five minutes walk from the main campus.  It was acquired by the Education Department and slightly modified by the Public Works Department.  The new premises provided office spaces, a movement studio, a design studio, a common room, sewing rooms, sound studio and music room on the upper floor.  Above was a flat roof complete with garden furniture. Downstairs, a large area with four large cement pillars holding up a twelve foot high ceiling became The Open Stage theatre.  Its flexibility was a realisation of Ron Danielson’s commitment to a space that staff and students could change and develop, experimenting with actor-audience relationships  and solving, in a practical way, the problems that arose.   The new theatre was described in Vox as  Òcharcoal grey with Òcomfortable rust coloured seats’.    The real effect was Carlton circa 1969 – non-proscenium, with settings created from a collection of various rostra, and seating consisting of 90 plastic chairs bolted to wooden rostra.

The newly established Department of Creative Arts  had ten full-time drama staff, three part-time drama staff and two full-time and one part-time music staff.  The Drama staff included Daryl Wilkinson, Lyn Cobern, Peter Green, Claire Dobbin, Max Gillies and Kristen Green and Lyn Merton.   Brian Hogan was seconded from the Education Department to teach method studies.  Peter Ralph came with a background in design, and was to work in the theatre design area for the next twenty years. Members of the music staff, including Geoff D’Ombrain and Geoff Gion, worked in close association with drama staff.  Over the decade, many productions were joint music/drama ventures.

The opening production at Bouverie Street was Genet’s The Maids directed by Daryl Wilkinson.  The first year’s season included a number of contemporary pieces, Paul Ableman’s Tests, John Arden’s Sarjeant Musgrave’s Dance and Ann Jellicoe’s The Sport of My Mad Mother .  The number of British and European plays performed during these years, gives some indication of the orientation of the Department, and the influence of the burgeoning young British theatre, led by avant-garde young directors like Peter Hall, Peter Brook and Charles Marowitz.

The choice for the name of the Bouverie Street theatre, The Open Stage, was in part inspired by Marowitz’s experimental theatre, the Open Space, and reflected the sixties trend – no proscenium, a reduction of barriers between actors and audiences, minimal settings and props, all features which were to become staple fare for theatre in the coming decade.   The texts being read at the time, Peter Brook’sThe Empty Space, Jerzy Grotowski’s Towards a  Poor Theatre, and  Artaud’s manifesto, The Theatre and Its Double, encouraged a generation of teachers and performers to break with the shackles of proscenium theatre and complicated illusionist sets, and to develop new  rehearsal techniques which placed more emphasis on the role of the actor and improvisation.

By 1969, the year in which the Drama Department became established at Bouverie Street, there were also significant local influences and developments, similarly  inspired by the contemporary overseas movements but increasingly Australian in characteristic.

Carlton was the centre for the theatre of the new left youth culture, politically  fuelled by the Vietnam moratoriums and artistically inspired by theatre “Happenings’,  Grotowski, Artaud, Brook and the improvisation techniques of American Viola Spolin.   The American Rock Musical Hair, playing in Australia in 1968, became a theatrical mouthpiece for the generation : “Here we are, this is what we stand for, would you like to join us?” [vii]

Many did!  There was a considerable expansion of dramatic activity in Universities and Colleges around Australia, and the development of a national student drama movement.  The university theatres to a greater extent, escaped the taint of amateurism and were reviewed in the avant-garde magazines as a category within themselves.  Passionate young writers and actors saw the theatre as, in Graeme Blundell’s words,  “a sort of vehicle for the revolution”  to be used in demonstrations, protest meetings and sit-ins.[viii]

In 1967, Betty Burstall founded La Mama in a disused underwear factory, let to her by the Del Monaco family.  It was intended as a drop-in place, with good coffee, offering actors and directors a place to work, and audiences exciting theatre at little cost.   Students and young theatre professionals embraced La Mama.  Very quickly an Actor’s workshop was developed there by Graeme Blundell, Allen Finney and Brian Davies who had worked together at the Melbourne University Dramatic Society.  By 1969 the group had grown into the Australian Performing Group (APG), and were operating out of the Pram Factory by 1970.   Disused warehouses and factories were refurbished as theatres by a generation.

The Teachers College Group was part of that scene, led by its younger staff.  Max Gillies’ 1969 production of Brecht’s A Man’s a Man included Bruce Spence and Lindy Davies, neither of whom were students.   In 1970 the Drama Department staff made a policy decision to do three major shows with the leads taken by non-students.  The three shows were bold and innovative, the Victorian premier of Childermas  (Thomas Keneally), the Australian premier of The Hero Rises Up  (John Arden), and a recent Henry Livings, The Little Mrs Foster Show.    Bouverie Street became a venue for some interesting new work.   In 1973 the Producer’s and Directors’ Guild hired it for the performance ofLibido, a collection of four short Australian plays, later to be filmed under the same title.   Later that year, The Open Stage showed The Calico Curtain (July), by Naomi Marks, a children’s play based on the Canterbury Tales, and an early Arena Theatre production.

While the younger drama staff had been keen to identify themselves with the Carlton theatre avant-garde, nevertheless Bouverie street was still the Teachers College and retained some strong links with its Speech and Drama Past.  By 1971 the department abandoned this community link partly on the basis that it had strayed too far from its principle object of training teachers. There was, as well, a developing gap between the student theatres and the young professional companies, the latter group now given a boost by the financial support that flowed after the election of the Whitlam Government in 1972.  Nonetheless the Department continued to draw from the Carlton theatre scene, as well as to influence it through the performance work of both staff and students.

In this heady period, some plays were highly controversial. New Zealand writer Max Richards’ Night Flowers, a play about a lesbian relationship, had a disrupted run at La Mama in March 1973 when  an exhausting ideological debate erupted each night after the performance.  Betty Burstall asked Darryl Wilkinson if he would give the play another run, which he did in The Open Stage (September 1973), with Nadia Tass in the lead role.  On opening night, and through the season, the play was boycotted by the Radical Lesbians, and the theatre picketed.  It was a far cry from The Calico Curtain!, performed earlier that year.

After the amalgamation of the Secondary Teachers College and the Melbourne Teachers College  into the Melbourne College of Education (August 1972), work began on McDonell’s visionary  Arts Building, located at the corner of Swanston and Grattan Streets. By 1973, the drama and music major studies were firmly entrenched, and in 1974 Creative Arts and the Secondary Art and Crafts section were consolidated in the new venue, affectionately acronymed the MAD building (Music Art Drama).

For the Drama Department, the most exciting aspect of the new building was the inclusion of a theatre which had the flexibility of the Bouverie theatre but with more flexible seating and the latest in lighting technology and without the obstructive cement pillars holding up the roof in the converted factory. The new Theatre retained the name The Open Stage.

The new Open Stage opened with a production of Aeffluence,  a “rock music spectacular” with an ecological theme.   Aeffluence was in its second incarnation, having been initially developed as Under the Effluence  by director Darryl Wilkinson  and drama/music students Philip Reed and Mike Bishop in August 1972.  The theme was pollution, and the first production had the enthusiasm and style of Hair.

Ron Danielson suggested that Darryl Wilkinson re-direct Under the Effluence for the opening of the new theatre.  At an initial meeting seventy students turned up, and the show that evolved became an entirely new piece.  Darryl began on a new script with a young Melbourne playwright, Louis Nowra.  The narrow theme of pollution seemed  dead two years later, so the play that emerged tackled the broader social issues within the “affluent-effluent” society.  The opening night ofAeffluence, a Musical Cosmorama, presented the combined talents of over one  hundred and forty students and staff of the Melbourne State College, and included Jim Phiddian, Steve Gration, Sue Heywood, Russel Davies, Brett Mahoney and Peter Elliot to name a very few.  Mike Bishop, Sarah de Jong, Kim Bessant and Rob Galbraith  were all involved in the musical composition. Staff member Peter Clinch, later to become Head of the Music Department, directed the music.   This collaboration with music was repeated the following year when Darry Wilkinson directedThe Threepenny Opera (November 1975), starring Geoff D’Ombrain with music direction by Peter Clinch.

Ron Danielson, with characteristic vision,  refused to see the Bouverie Street resource wasted. Following negotiations with the Education Department, Bouverie Street became the home of the Drama Resource Centre.   The DRC had two functions:  to act as a research and consultative group for drama in schools, and to operate a Theatre in Education team.   Members of the DRC were seconded from schools.   Many of the staff appointed, which included Helen Wilkinson, David Taylor, Graham Scott, Tim Bell, Lyn Harwood and John McLeod, had been trained within the Drama Department.   For the next decade, the DRC and the Department  were interdependent advocates for the growth and quality of drama in primary and secondary schools in Victoria.

The move into the Arts building heralded a period of further growth for the Drama Department.  During the seventies, the Drama Department explored the many theatrical possibilities afforded by the Open Stage.  Vox Illuminata (1974) was an environmental installation, in collaboration with a member of the sculpture staff.   In 1975, two staff members,  David Lander and Sue Neville embarked on the Mad Hat Theatre Company which explored improvisation and trance states, in part inspired by Artaud, and in part by  alternative new age religious movements.  In 1978 the television studio possibilities were explored when Armstrong Audio Visual Productions used the theatre to televise Ray Lawlor’s Doll Trilogy,  first performed by the Melbourne Theatre Company in February 1977.   In the same year, Daryl Wilkinson created an “environmental theatre” in the space with a production of Sandro Key-Aberg’s 0.  Daryl  negotiated a loan of all the swivel chairs in the building which became the audience seating.  The dramatic action was placed on rostra all around the theatre; the audiences adjusted and swivelled their individual chairs as the focus shifted from scene to scene.   For Daryl Wilkinson, recently returned from a period working with the Melbourne Theatre Company, the Open Stage was one the of the most flexible theatre spaces in Melbourne, and provided experimental opportunities which were not available in professional theatre.

In 1977, the eleven productions at the Open Stage were produced by both staff and students, and included classical plays, contemporary European and British plays, group devised and student written pieces and a children’s play.  The Drama Department included 12 academic staff, a theatre manager, two wardrobe staff, a carpenter, a technician and an administrative officer.  In that year an audience total of 5,480 attended the 75 performances  ( 5-10 performance per show). [ix]    This year also marked the commencement of the Bachelor of Education(Secondary), which included a special intake of students into the Drama Department, selected by audition and interview. The following year, 1978, A Graduate Diploma in Drama in Education was established, and developed into a very popular program.  With the expanding acceptance of drama within schools, drama positions were still available .  The Graduate Diploma Course was designed for practising teachers who wished to obtain a Drama qualification, which would allow them to meet the “tagging” requirements of the Education Department.

During the next few years, the Drama Department consolidated its growing reputation in drama in education.  Ron Danielson was the founding president of the Victorian Association for Drama in Education, established in 1969.  In 1976 VADIE became part of a national organisation, NADIE,  which has maintained its mutually supportive relationship with the Department into the nineties. In Drama in Education : An Annual Survey, Richard Courtney, Canadian drama educator, described praised the drama program  as exciting, empirical and and progressive”  and of the “highest calibre compared to anywhere in the world”.   Richard Courtney was to visit Melbourne on a number of occasions, writing a review of the Department in 1979.  He was a consistent supporter of Ron’s work, and was the key advocate for  the Department’s international standing.

From the early-seventies, there was a growing debate within the drama community and a widening gap between the training of teachers and theatre practitioners.  John Deverall,  who joined the staff in 1974, sees the impetus for this ideological shift  coming from Brian Way’s Development through Drama, which dismisses the relevance of theatre training to classroom practice. When John returned to Melbourne State College after a year in studying with Dorothy Heathcote in Newcastle, he found “a department divided into two camps – the drama for personal development camp, and the drama and theatre camp”. [x]    All secondary students at first year level did a compulsory personal development course of seven hours a week; staff and students wore leotards, and essential teaching tools included a box of blindfolds and a bag of balls!  There was a clear association with this form of personal development drama and imported new age alternative philosophies and life-styles, including transactional analysis and group therapy.   Five years after Hair, we were still in the “Age of Aquarius”.    Ironically, the Open Stage which so well served the experimental needs of the theatre practitioners  also suited the needs of the drama-in-education acolytes – it was “a space where anything could happen”.

In the 1976, the Victorian College of the Arts school of Drama was established to train actors, directors and animateurs.  In contrast to the early years of the Drama Department at the STC, it was now unusual for students to seek theatrical training within the department or to expect to find professional work in the theatre after graduating.  Actors Equity,  recognised the professional training at VCA, but were not prepared to credit to the course in the Teachers College as appropriate actor training.   At the VCA, the Founding Dean Peter Oyston worked hard  to foster a community theatre movement in Victoria, and the centre for the activity of the avant-garde new  young professionals was increasingly associated with the VCA, its staff and students. Furthermore,  John Ellis had taken a more theatrical direction in the course he had established at the Monash Teachers College, now Rusden State College.   It was a perception amongst students choosing a course in drama that Rusden provided an alternative to the VCA, whereas Melbourne the place to go if you really wanted to be adrama teacher.

Ron Danielson was to resign from the Department in 1979 when he took up a post to establish the Performing Arts Museum in the newly established Arts Centre.   In many ways, Ron’s departure was to signal the end of one era, and the beginning of another.  Paul Stevenson became Acting Head of Department during 1979.  The tenth anniversary of the opening of the Open Stage in Bouverie Street was celebrated with a production of a home-grown musical play involving over fifty students and staff.  The play, Chautauqua or The Bridge of Man, was about a “journey from behind the facade of the marketplace of life, into the wilderness to find the wise man of legend”.  This musical phantasy reflected the changing attitudes about the relationship between drama and social education.   The play offered “audience involvement with the cast in an improvised marketplace” with music which was “unusually beautiful”.  Ten years on from Hair, there was “NO amplification by sound”.[xi]   The Carlton scene was changing too.   In the early eighties  as the Pram Factory closed its doors,  the focus for theatre in Melbourne was moving away from Carlton.

Despite changing times, the Drama Department successfully maintained the standard, volume and diversity of production output. The Open Stage program in 1980 included a Drama Department season of Brecht plays, productions by students of NIDA, Playback Theatre, Chandrabahnu, the Indian dancer, Ibsen’sGhosts, directed by Daryl Emerson, and a Children’s Theatre Festival. It is interesting to note an increased use of the Open Stage as a hire venue.   Lunch-time concerts, presented by the Music Department , were also a regular feature, as were ad hoc drama staff and student presentations.

From the beginning of the eighties, the Drama Department, now headed by Brian Hogan, found itself faced with a far less sympathetic environment than that of Doug McDonell and the early Colleges.   A particular blow was dealt in 1980 when Melbourne State College was threatened with amalgamation with Lincoln Institute and SCV Coburg.  Associated with the threatened amalgamations came reductions in student numbers.  The response of staff and students was to establish a Defend Melbourne State College scheme which created a corporate identity within the institution.  Drama students led the march on Parliament House, wearing death masks,  bearing a symbolic coffin, and utilising street theatre skills to the full.  On the drama “float” accompanying the march, a Griffin, the symbol for MTC, was mutilated and disembowelled.   Amalgamation was shelved for a time, but the  crisis continued into 1981 when the Federal government’s  “Razor Gang”, established to reduce government expenditure on education, presented its “amalgamate or perish” ultimatum.

The eighties was a difficult period for the Drama Department, but there was an increasing acceptance of drama in the school curriculum, and this had a positive  impact on student demand. Graduates from the seventies were now looking for further qualifications, and  there was a growing number of M Ed students.  In 1979, Richard Countney’s Review of the Department recommended, among other things, a growth in the graduate area. The first year undergraduate drama intake in the early eighties exceeded 100, and there was strong competition for entry into the Graduate Diploma.  On the other hand, the separation of teacher training from the Department of Education, and the “Razor Gang” cuts had an impact on staff and students.  New staff tended to be on contract rather than permanent.  It had also been some time since the Department Studentship schemes, which ensured teaching jobs for graduating students, ceased to be offered.  Students were now competing for tertiary places in a very different environment. The elite drama-specific stream, which had accepted students through the audition process was cut, with the last tagged entry in 1982.  While the closure of this stream had little effect on student numbers, it had a significant impact on the way in which the Department and students defined themselves. Entry was no longer about performance potential, but rather about teaching potential. Consistent with its perceived higher commitment to Theatre, Rusden Drama and Dance Department continued to main an audition entry scheme.

This perceived difference was underscored by the direction taken in the Drama Department.  The decade from 1975 was the period in which Drama in Education became a discipline in its own right, and students began a training process based on an expanding body of theory which had tenuous links with mainstream theatre.   Ideas of dramatic play and enrolment were to become established in the lexicon.  Drama demanded its legitimate place within the curriculum as an independent subject, distinguished from both dramatic literature and oral English. Drama in the classroom was no longer dependent of theatre convention – the emphasis was on the experiential exploration of personal and social identity.  The teacher was freed to teach “in role” if appropriate, and encourage development through “personal play”.  For a period the traditional school production was anathema.  The theories of the British educators, Peter Slade, Brian Way, Dorothy Heathcote and Gavin Bolton successively engaged the interests of drama teachers and trainers.

The Drama Department began a scheme whereby teachers were seconded from schools for three years to work within the Department and maintain a close connection with contemporary classroom practice.  The consequence of this was that many teachers trained in the Department returned as staff members, including Russell Davies, Roma Burgess, Pamela Gaudry, Sue Heywood and John McLeod.  The burgeoning professional organisation, the Victorian Association for Drama in Education drew many of its executive committee members from within the Drama Department, and held office space in the Department for a period.  Teachers with a high profile in the NADIE, and active in the national drama in education debate, were also appointed to staff, often on a sessional or part-time basis.  These staff, notably John McLeod, Pam Gaudry, Roma Burgess, John Deverall and Kate Donelan published widely, and had a significant impact on theoretical development and teaching practice within the Department and within schools.  John McLeod’s text, Drama is Real Pretending, became the definitive theoretical position for a decade of Victorian drama teachers.  Most  theatrically oriented staff, including David Lander, Lindy Davies and Darryl Wilkinson were to leave during this period to find work in the theatre or in the growing School of Drama in the VCA.   There was also a considerable turnover of staff because of contracting numbers and the proliferation of contracts following the “Razor Gang” cuts.

In 1984, when the College was renamed as Melbourne College of Advanced Education,  primary drama subjects were incorporated into the Secondary drama major.  Students could now enter drama through the general Secondary Arts entry or through the Primary course.  This dual teaching sat comfortably within the new theoretical paradigm.   From 1987, students in the Graduate Diploma in Education were also taught in undergraduate programs, alongside pre-service primary and secondary students. Until the late eighties drama in schools was buoyant and expanding.  Jobs were plentiful, and graduating students could expect immediate employment.

A downward trend was heralded by cuts within curriculum support services in the Ministry for Education.  In 1986, the Drama Resource Centre at Bouverie Street was disbanded.  The final production presented by the DRC’s Theatre in Education team was on the theme of child abuse. Homesafe, directed by veteran Daryl Wilkinson, was a major success in terms of  both educational content and theatrical presentation.  Sadly, the cuts were economically and politically determined and had little to do with performance quality or social relevance. Many highly experienced drama/teacher practitioners found themselves looking for work in either schools or the tertiary arena.   Drama Resource Centre staff, after ten years work in research and performance,  found themselves returned to the same primary or secondary school classroom they had left a decade earlier.

Within a year or so,  the Drama Department was to enter yet another phase in its development, one directed by a series of amalgamation negotiations and restructures which served to further reduce staff numbers and put pressure on the theatre performances presented in The Open Stage.   1986 was the last year in which the Drama department existed as an autonomous academic department where the Head had direct access to the Director.  In this year, under the newly appointed Director Barry Sheehan,  the College entered into a major restructuring which absorbed the political energy of many staff on the campus. Brian Hogan, appointed in 1980, was the last permanent appointed Head of the Department; from 1987 the Drama was led by a Chairperson elected by the Department.  In 1987,  after the College was restructured into Schools, Drama became absorbed into the School of Performing Arts, with Music and Media Arts.  John Deverall was appointed as Head of the School.

In 1986, there were additional factors which had an impact on the Department.   In that year the drama major underwent a major restructure, prompted by the introduction of primary students in 1984, and the increasing difficulty of independently  servicing the Graduate Diploma students with declining staff numbers, both academic and technical.  The changing profile of staff also had its impact. As indicated above, staff were, in the main, committed to the exploration of drama in education practise rather than theatre performance.  Daryl Wilkinson who had returned to the Department in 1977 after a time abroad, now left  to take up a senior position at the Victorian College of the Arts.  Only two staff carried the load of student productions.  Brian Hogan, freed from the constraints of Head of Department work from 1987, directed his energies towards the area of theatre production.   Norman Price, NIDA trained, and a staff member since 1981, also took on some of the large scale production work, developing a number of interesting productions, in part inspired by the works of Tadashi Suzuki and Japanese Butoh.

The new structure saw third year students involved in a major staff directed production,  and fourth year students able to elect to direct a production in the Open Stage.  First and Second Year productions, from this time, were increasingly one-off and often presented in A418 or A419, the drama and dance studios above the Open Stage.  Increasing costs associated with the Open Stage, and timetabling of student productions, meant that fewer outside groups hired the theatre. On the other hand, the restructuring gave an second impetus to student directed work. In  1987 and 1988  Fourth year student directed work comprised a considerable proportion of  productions in The Open Stage.   From 1988 until 1991, when Brian Hogan retired, all third year major productions were directed by either Brian Hogan or Norman Price.   From as early as the mid-eighties, Brian Hogan also directed a annual “summer-stock” production, independent of the Department, but which regularly employed past and present students in the cast and crew.

1989 saw yet another College restructuring as the Melbourne College of Advanced Education was finally amalgamated with the University of Melbourne, becoming the Institute of Education.   The Drama Division within Performing Arts was now subsumed into the School of Visual and Performing Arts Education, and Graham Reade, from the Visual arts area, was appointed Head of School.

Under the University of Melbourne, the next five years were characterised by increasing uncertainty, reviews and still more restructures within the Institute of Education.  The Taylor/Maling Review of the Institute, later politically corrected to the Maling/Taylor Review was conducted by British educationalist Sir William  Taylor, and South Australian Professor Jillian Maling.   Not surprisingly, the Review recommended that the Institute be severely reduced in size, and that it confine its offerings to education studies, shedding or transferring all discipline subject areas  to the appropriate departments within the other University faculties.  The Review also proposed a major restructuring of pre-service teacher education programs, including the demise of the four year concurrent degree.  From 1990 cuts in the education budget reduced new teaching appointments in schools.  The review had, in part, relied upon this evidence of declining teaching opportunities and projected demographic shifts which predicted a declining school population.  The election of the Kennett Government accelerated the process with a crippling reduction in the teaching service, which severely attacked the morale of both the profession and those in the process of pre-service education.  The Graduate Diploma in Education accepted its final intake in 1992.

In 1991, these recommendations and associated consequences had an enormous impact on the Drama Department.  That year the skeleton department of 5 full-time staff was split into two groups, Theatre studies and Drama in Education.  Drama in Education, staffed by John Deverall and Kate Donelan  became part of an Arts Education Division; they were joined by Phillip Taylor, appointed in 1992.  Theatre Studies, staffed by Brian Hogan, Norman Price and Angela O’Brien,  was combined with Media Arts in the Performing Arts Division.

An associated influential  factor was the future of the Interdisciplinary Drama Program a second year subject which had developed in the Arts Faculty English Department in the seventies; the ID coordinator was negotiating at this time to develop a third year of the ID Drama study.  Norman Price, lecturer in Theatre Studies, had taught in this program for some years, and collaborated with English Department staff to find some common ground between the ID subjects and second and third year Drama Department core subjects.  After Taylor-Mayling, negotiations were opened to discuss the future of the Theatre Studies area, now controlling approximately half of the subjects in the Drama Major.  A proposal was put forward to integrate Theatre Studies and the ID Program and transfer the Theatre Studies Staff to the English Department .  While discussions were underway in 1992, Third year Drama students from both the Institute of Education and the Arts Faculty were taught together in a common subject called Dramaturgical Studies.   But just as in Ron Danielson’s day, some thirty years earlier, the Arts Faculty rejection of this proposal revealed an inherent intellectual suspicion of practical arts application.    In 1993, the ID program and a full-time staff member, Glenn d’Cruz, were transferred to Theatre Studies,  and the Bachelor of  Arts and Bachelor of Education students were taught together at both second and third year levels.    A decision was taken in 1992 , in line with the external Review, to phase out the Bachelor of Education, and the final Arts intake, which included the potential drama major students, was accepted into the Institute in 1993.  At the end of 1994, during the re-enrolment period, Arts Faculty students were advised that the ID Drama Program was no longer available to them.

Throughout 1993, the University conducted discussions with the Victorian College of the Arts to establish a ÒSixth SchoolÓ which would offer a new Bachelor of Visual and Performing Arts.  The intention was to transfer University resources, including the staff in Visual and Performing Arts, to the VCA.  Throughout 1993 staff were engaged in developing a new degree with a major study in Theatre Studies, but including no education basis.  The drama major of the late nineties was very different in style from either the theatre production emphasis of the seventies, or the drama in education  theories which dominated the following decade.  The new program incorporated contemporary theoretical paradigms, including post-modernism, post-colonialism and the new historicism.


In 1995, the Theatre Studies component of Drama became the basis of a major study within a new Bachelor of Creative Arts offered by the Victorian College of the Arts through the new School of Studies in Creative Arts (SSCA). Existing staff also transferred.  The Drama in Education component was reduced to a single staff member within the School of Language, Literacy and Arts Education.  From 1995 Secondary Teachers could no longer undertake a major study in Drama and their pre-service teacher education within the same department.  In 1998 the School of Studies in Creative Arts and the School of Language Literacy introduced a joint Bachelor of Creative Arts/Bachelor of Teaching, which offered double degree training for drama teachers.  In 2001 the SSCA transferred back to the University of Melbourne as the School of Creative Arts (SCA) in the Faculty of Arts.  From 2002 Theatre Studies is offered as a major study in both the Bachelor of Creative Arts and the Bachelor of Arts.  The SCA currently offers postgraduate programs in Theatre Studies through both coursework and research.  SCA students play a leadership role in the extra-curricular theatre production in the University of Melbourne.

[i] Don Garden The Melbourne Teacher Training Coplleges , Melbourne, Heinemann Educational Australia 1982, p230

[ii] Garden p222

[iii] Ron Danielson, This is Your Life, Archives

[iv] Proposal for establishing a Melbourne Youth Theatre, Drama Department archives

[v] Lois Ellis RD Performing Arts Lecture 1991

[vi] Lois Ellis RD Performing Arts Lecture 1991

[vii] Jim Sharman, “A Hairy Arm Extended”, Masque, June 1969 p30

[viii]   John Allen “changing Theatre, Changing World, Masque August 1968 p31

[ix] Information from The Open Stage booklet, 1977

[x]   Interview, N.S.W.  Educational Drama SAssociation, March 1985

[xi] staff circular by Paul Stevenson 12 June, 1969