This is Subprime
This is Subprime or: How I learned to stop worrying and let the taxpayer pick up my student debt is a new musical created by the entire 3rd year student ensemble from Coventry University Theatre and Professional Practice degree course. Working in collaboration with us, This is Subprime… is a rebellious examination of the added value gained from a University education. 2010 saw a massive hike in tuition fees to an eye watering £9,000 a year leaving many graduates with 3 times the debt they would have shouldered a decade ago. With vast numbers of graduates entering the job market each year, does their education still qualify them to enjoy satisfying, well-paid employment? and if not what are the consequences. We follow the character of Kevin from school, to University and what follows.
Plundering the popular musical-theatre form KILN and the 3rd year Coventry students have set out to create a hit musical in the hope of making the ‘big time’ with a show that comments on the educational choices they have made and the future careers they face.
“…the character of Kevin illustrates the importance of making you’re own decisions and taking responsibility for the consequences that proceed” Craig Thompson, 3rd year student
A Musical about studen debt!! gahhhhh! why would I want to watch that..? Well we’ve asked members of the ensemble to explain a little more about the process of making it and why they think it’s worth seeing.
So your writing a musical about student debt, so what? Why would anyone be interested in that and why should we come see it?
Student debt seems to be a topic that avoids discussion. Personally, when applying for university, I did not think about the cost. All my friends were going and my family encouraged me to look into it and I saw nothing negative about studying a subject I loved. When it came to the discussions about the cost, reassuring words such as ‘grants’ and ‘loans’ were thrown at me and that seemed to settle my worries.
However, through making this musical about student debt, we have been able to consider where the loans have come from and what happens when we leave university. The subject about student debt is not talked about enough and therefore this piece will not only be entertaining, but also educational.
Yet, do not make the mistake about thinking that this show is about facts and figures. We have devised a storyline that follows a character from childhood to adulthood and goes through stages that we can all relate to. We have used comedy, movement and music to add colour to the story and overall, I believe it is fun and engaging.
Yes, we are making a musical about student debt however, because it’s a piece of theatre, we will be able to discuss the topic in a fun way. The show will be energetic but also based on the truth with everything taken from our own personal experiences. After all, they do say write about what you know.
Mizio De Sousa
Even if you’re not going to use a student loan to get yourself through university, there will be someone around you that will be affected by this system. So it’s vital that we raise awareness and provoke thought of this issue. If we are going to make a change, a million different voices will be far greater than just the voice of students. I can only give my own opinion, which is that an affordable education is a right to everyone, and right now students are plagued with a debt that will be attached to them for 30 years or until they manage to pay it off. Therefore I feel that instead of asking why should we be interested in it, it should instead be a matter of owing our country the right to fight back at this problem. Not only are we shedding light on this debate but the play itself is a marvel of comedy, music and the battle of an underdog fighting the system. It has been an amazing experience and I definitely recommend the show to everyone who wants to make a difference.
Student debt is something that most, if not all of us, will have to deal with when attending University so what better people to discuss this issue than people who are in their third and final year of an industry facing Theatre degree. The average student will leave university with on average, £47,000 worth of debt, and although this is an extremely serious issue it is not the only issue that the play discusses. It discusses why we might decide to go to university in the first place with the play starting at school and even touches base with what happens after university. We look at what opportunities are around as each and every year more and more graduates enter the job market. The musical element bring satire and the catchy songs combat a serious issue. You should come and see it because I believe we are the only theatre company at the moment making a play about student debt and also it has catchy musical songs and dances, including a song called “I Love Uni”, who wouldn’t want to see that?
Our musical is worth seeing, because it opens up the eyes of people who both have experienced university life and those who haven’t. And because the show is performed as a musical with comedy and a variety of dances it brings to life the struggles and hopes of life at university. We hope this becomes a musical hit!
Can you tell us what it’s about?
‘This Is Subprime’ is a responsive, expressive piece of musical theatre about the added value of doing arts degree. I feel sometimes artists are frowned upon for going to university and not doing A ‘proper course’. By ‘proper course’ that usually means, “why don’t you study something intelligent or vocational? You won’t get a job”. Whereas here we are working with a professional theatre company in our last year at university, building connections and gaining experience of true workmanship within our craft. ‘This Is Subprime’ takes the common ignorant view of our sector and tells the tale of what it is to be us, are the trebled tuition fees a fair indication of the quality of the degree? Do we have a realistic chance at a satisfying career linked to our degree when we leave university? Because we’ve done a degree, is it fair for people to look down on us if we do not use it? We take these issues and explore them through an action packed story played out in a musical-theatre style performance. We drive home the facts and figures from our research into government statistics on student debt to give a taste of how it feels to walk a mile in our shoes.
What role do you play? How did you develop your role and what do you do in the production?
I play Kevin Peacock, the protagonist of ‘This Subprime’. Kevin in many ways is the personification of the average British Student. The story follows the journey of Kevin from year 9 in secondary school until his graduation from university. Ultimately resulting in the realisation that whilst he has a degree, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee him his ideal career. The character of Kevin holds up a mirror to the university system and acts as a narrative device that explores fundamental questions such as is university worth it? particularly for the arts. It also explores the question of whether university degrees hold a true standing in today’s society. It could be argued that degrees are more readily available but at the same time leave students with an even greater level of debt than ever before. On a more basic level the character of Kevin illustrates the importance of making you’re own decisions and taking responsibility for the consequences that proceed. For me it was important to look at Brecht’s approach to performing. Ideally, each element of the play should operate independently. Every scene must tell its own story and carry its own message. Each scene must have a clear beginning and end. This is something as narrative driven character I had to achieve. The fact our production is also a musical also made the research into the fundamental basics of musical theatre performance essential. The over the top characterisation of it is a staple and is something I worked on due to my personal struggles with musical theatre performing.
During this process, I have taken on different roles within the show and behind the scenes. My initial role was part of the ‘student’ group. I was able to use my own current thoughts and feelings to determine how my character would react and feel about the situation of student debt. At the start of the show, the ensemble are all part of a school group of 13/14 year old pupils, I used some of my previous experiences to further develop my character. I am also the person working in the job centre, who is unhelpful and just wants to get through her clients as quickly as possible, she carries a fake smile.
I have also taken on production roles, I am head of costume, which is something I haven’t done before and I have learnt so much about it and how much I really enjoy making costumes! It’s been great to be a part of a different team for this project. I am also composing the ‘script’ and song list, which means I am collecting all of the short scenes and improvisations that are created and the songs which have been written, into a form that can be followed by Stage Management and the Technical Team. As well as this, I am Front of House manager, which is a role I always love to take on, I really enjoy sorting the tickets and creating a team to run Front of House on our show nights.
I have really enjoyed the experience of working with a professional theatre company, the fact that we have put a completely unique show together in the space of four weeks and the way that we have used games and exercises to create different character traits and scenes has been a really fun, exciting and different way of working! All for the love of theatre!!
My roles within the show is the mother of Kevin, Pianist, and I have also been leading on the technical needs of the work, such as lighting and sound. In terms of my role as the mother its been interesting to have to play a women as in university I have had to play a wide range of characters except a women so it has been enlighting (especially learning how to walk in heels). With my technical role and Pianist I have had to source the electronic equipment, such as PA system and microphones. I have created sound effects for the show, using skills that haven’t been used in a long time.
I play the role of Donte ‘Big D’ the popular kid in the play. I also accompany the role ‘Shaniqua’ the business man in drag and various other characters including a lecturer. When developing my roles, I used a lot of improvisation to generate character traits and text and gather substance to my characters. I played with real-life circumstances and personalities played at an extreme level to then allow avenues of how I could refine and pull back to create my characters. I find experimenting on the ways in which your character may walk and talk in various given circumstances allows me efficient development. In the production the popular kid befriends Kevin as a way to cheat on his homework and use him as a muse. The business men in drag use their very persuasive techniques to get Kevin to take out a student loans, the most conniving plan to suck him into the controversy known as the student system.
What can an audience expect from the production? How will it make them feel?
The audience can expect an extremely cheesy musical that tells a story of a young, intelligent boy who used to get bullied at school and moves on to study theatre at University. The show playfully raises questions about all the challenges that can arise from going to University. For example we look into the challenge of finding a job after University and paying back the debt. I believe the show will make the audience feel anxious, uncomfortable, shocked but overall gain a better understanding of University as both a challenging but nurturing experience.