Whenever I am asked what degree I did at university, I am always overly apologetic in my tone as I reply ‘Dance and Drama with Design’. I always quip something like ‘So, y’know, I’m super employable now’ in an incredibly self-depreciating way. I should really stop this. I am damn employable. Not only is my ‘pointless’ degree at a first class honours level, but I also worked several part time jobs, ran societies, attended extra courses and partook in our unions TV and Radio stations. Of course now, I am my Students’ Union’s Vice President for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, a position I had to campaign against 8 other people for. I was an A* student at school, a prefect and a total nerd, I did a Btec with triple distinctions, and taught myself A levels with a distance learning company, so why I feel ashamed about my degree, why I pretend to be dumb, I have no idea.
I chose my degree with an open mind and an honest heart. One day, I will probably be a teacher of some sort. But Primary teaching was not for me at 19 years old. I had no idea who I was, reeling from a broken heart and a newly fragile soul, and this degree was what I needed at the time. Originally, when I had applied for university the year before, I applied for only stage schools. I didn’t get in to any of them. I decided to take a sort of gap year (does it count if you don’t backpack around Europe?!), get a Post 16 teaching qualification and spend more time with the boyfriend who would eventually break my heart. When it came to reapplying, aforementioned boyfriend’s mum tried to convince me not to bother with drama and to go into teaching instead. I gave in and filled in my UCAS application for a mixture of Primary and Secondary teaching courses, never quite feeling sure about what I wanted to do. It wasn’t until a few weeks before the deadline that my best friend convinced me to apply for the course I actually wanted to do. The thought of seeing the Drama students walk past, barefoot and in blacks, whilst I am stuck in a faux-classroom, stuffed into a sensible suit, feeling older than my soul was all I needed to change my entire application. I kept one teaching course on my list of choices as a ‘back up’ sure I would at least have that to fall back on. Ironically (or perhaps it was a sign) they rejected me without even an interview. Ouch. Edge Hill was the only ‘real’ university I had applied for, because the prospectus had ducks on it. True story. I went to audition after audition, hating places I should have loved for their reputation, and getting into places for courses I shouldn’t have applied for (“If you want to actually perform, this isn’t the course for you…”) feeling torn in several directions. Finally I had my EHU audition and immediately felt at home. As stupid as it sounds, like a perfect wedding dress, I knew it was where I was supposed to be. It was a university I had wanted to apply for pre-Gap Year but my Btec tutor told me I wouldn’t enjoy it. Applying and loving it was a big F-you to her and the way she treated me with hatred and disrespect.
The point I will always stick to, is that unless you have an exact field you want to go in to, any degree is useful. As a piece of paper, my degree shows I can work hard at something (that at times I hated), but really, it means so much more. When I started, I thought I wanted to be an ‘actress’, whatever that means. By taking dance lessons from the age of 3, I had spent most of my life convincing myself I enjoyed dance. Honestly? When I stopped ballroom, when it got competitive and my confidence got utterly shattered, I stopped enjoying it at all. It wasn’t fun, and I didn’t feel the free, elated way that dancers describe. I felt heavy and unhappy. Everything was too forced. I had never seen myself as a designer, I didn’t do art at school and I certainly could not draw. I ended up on a design module – lighting, by a happy accident and my heart was stolen. I went along this path for the rest of my degree, and long story short, by graduation I identified myself as a ‘Performance Artist and Immersive Theatre Creator’ (whatever that means), knowing I don’t want to be on Eastenders (the way people I speak to seem to measure ‘success’) I want to create, be creative and change the world. I understand that performance isn’t going to end world hunger, fix global warming or evoke world peace, but through performance and art I want to make people question these things. I want to educate children and adults alike. I don’t know how exactly but I have a head full of ideas.
So uni taught me more than just the history of theatre lighting (they used to light the audience, not the stage – crazy huh?!) it taught me who I am, and who I am supposed to be . I now know I am a feisty feminist, an introverted activist and a creative f*cker. Most importantly, it taught me to be okay with this.