Professional or non-professional?

Brian Joyce of Australia’s Freewheels Theatre, once gave the following at the beginning of an article on ‘Professionalism’ and wrote that the “slapstick definition seemed to be as lucid as some of the responses (he) received….asking for some opinions from colleagues and acquaintances.”

Mowldie: (Insulting the others) Amateurs!

Quince: Yes. Amateurs. From the Latin. Ama; Love. Teur; For the of.

Snout: Love for the of?

Quince: For the love of! Yes amateurs! And you sir, a professional. Ha!

Mowldie: Yes Professional. (Explaining) Pro; For, Fesh;……fesh. On; State of.  Al; Cohol. Professional. One who drinks like a fish! (Exits and collapses)

from “The Popular Mechanicals” by Taylor, Robinson and Shakespeare.

I happened to be at a shindig the other day. Educationists, artists, teachers, HOD’s, industrialists and other important figures adorned the gathering. One particular debate revolved around professionalism. The discussion immediately reminded me of Brian’s introduction to his article written nearly 14 years ago.

It is unfortunate that in India a hierarchy still exists in the ladder of categorising what a professional is? A major emphasis is laid on the ‘white collar’ executive cadre and the mainstream established Doctor/Lawyer/Manager/Engineer/BPO career.

Educational institutions at school level do very little to offer accurate and informative knowledge about the spheres of Art/Theatre/Cinema/Design/Research as equally valid and career oriented options. Though activities related to “creativity” are part of the syllabi of, practically all schools, there is no belief attached with it, that would impart to the students the factuality that art, writing, theatre, music, dance etc., are important within every society – not as merely superfluous activities but which can contribute as potently as the service of medicine, science and the like.

In India, even today (inspite of all that may be propagated), there is no consistent perception of theatre, particularly children’s theatre, as a profession by the educational institutions and the academic community. While art, music and dance are now being taught in schools, there are hardly any schools which employ trained theatre professionals to teach drama on a full-time basis; give them a good pay package; the freedom to practice and create good theatre; stay away from presenting appalling Broadway copies; and, not train the children for horrendous ‘Reality Shows’! Theatre is, more often than not, considered as a “vacation pass-time”, something to enjoy and keep the children occupied and out of their parent’s way – but not to be taken too seriously.

Indian psyche is fatalistic to the point that the ‘Karma Theory’ is applied and followed by most. This leads to pre-determined events and as such, there is no systematic way followed. No planning, no organisation, no punctuality! What we lack as professionals is commitment to the cause/work in hand and dedication. There is no accountability and as such we have more of professional quacks. The public does not accept theatre as a profession; job roles are not well defined; payment structure is arbitrary; theatre for children and young people is not important enough; many theatre artistes themselves throw jaundiced looks at Theatre-in-Education (TIE) and those involved with it; people do not read and are not aware; theatre artistes and other professionals working with children do not meet and/or share ideas, problems or even try to get together to lobby their cause.

Without a change in this attitude, it is difficult to imagine children’s’ theatre inspiring a high degree of professionalism. Even amongst theatre professionals (those who are not perusing theatre as a hobby or side activity), children’s theatre is a stop-gap arrangement. To quote a theatre professional, “Children can at best behave, they cannot emote!”  This is from someone who practises children’s theatre during vacations.

The afore mentioned statement is open to contradiction but the point to note is that there is a lot of experimentation, debate and discussion going on – related to children’s theatre.  This raises the hope that the future will see children’s theatre in India emerging as a profession, consisting of dedicated professionals committed to the sustained development of the medium. But for this to happen, Indians and particularly theatre artistes, will have to be “professional” enough in their attitudes. As long as there is a veneer of ‘social respectability’ being equated with a profession, there can be no professionalism. A professional attitude is required.

All societies, world wise, possess an unequal bias when positioning the merit of the ‘Arts’ in relation to other choices for a profession. Some do it more blatantly than the others. As creative people, besides being involved with our chosen specialities, we have to work towards redefining the perception of others so that all creative fields are seen as relevant and essential professional choices.

1 Response to “Professional or non-professional?”

  1. November 17, 2009 at 9:35 pm

    I think the categories ‘amateur’ and ‘professional’ may relate to industrial and social-cultural conditions that may no longer exist (if they ever did) … at least on this side of the Indian Ocean (I mean Australia). My own practice in ‘youth theatre’ and ‘community arts’ evolved over the years into something we liked to call ‘social-cultural animation’, after the French practice, which was a more useful category than an ‘arts’ related one, but which had the failing that hardly anyone else here understood what an ‘animateur’ is and does. In any case, a ‘professional’ arts career here meant, de facto, a portfolio career, a bit of writing, a bit of workshopping and facilitation, a bit of teaching, and so on.

    By now I don’t find much in conventional ‘arts’ (or for that matter, ‘creative industries’) discourses and practises that actually relates to what I do. Because for me arts activity was always a means, not an end, a means to address social situations in particular ways. When ‘arts’ moves from verb to noun (particularly a capitalised noun!) I start squirming.

    Perhaps it’s not about ‘amateur’ vs ‘professional’ but more, as Hugh McLeod suggests ‘effective’ vs ‘ineffective’.

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