Reflections Task 30 and Task 31 – Installation of your research topic

Dear Maria. Thanks very much for this Task. See my reflections below and your next Task 31– Installation of your research topic.

Reflections Yoga Lore

I immediately knew how I wanted to carry out this task: I envisaged my own yoga book. How would it look? Which postures would I include and what would I say about them? Would I talk about their alignment, their do’s and don’t’s, their origin, would I ponder my relationship or history with the postures? Would I get spiritual and philosophical or simply practical and pragmatic? Since starting my MA I used an app on my iPad to take notes because I like that I can combine writing, drawing, taking pictures and recording audio. The note-taking-app I have used to make the images below are from this app, it’s called Notes Plus.

My Yoga Lore is a ‘Desert-island-Discs’ of the postures I would take with me if I was stranded somewhere. If I can hold onto these ones…

The full PDF of the Lore is here:

Yoga Lore

Task 31 – Installation of your research topic

I have begun a collaboration with an anthropologist in Denmark and we are currently looking to do some work that explores the bodily knowing in patients who are undergoing treatment or surgery for back problems. It is opening up a new and exciting  avenue for me of working creatively between movement and science/medicine. I know you have been/are working outside your primary discipline with technology and digital forms. I am curious to find out more about this work. And so, this next task involves your own research.

For task 31 I want you to think of your current research topic or an area of it and make an (art) installation that reflects or captures (some of) your ideas or questions. Use materials or environment that inform your work and put it into a spatial relationship. If it makes sense to move with or around the installation you can add a movement score to the instruction. You can photograph or film the outcome or dance and bring back any aspect of your installation to the blog.

Enjoy

Challenging the Challenges Facing C21st Theatre Training: Action Research and the Integration of Theory and Practice

The following post is part of a series of responses that are framed by Jonathan Pitches here.

Previous posts can be found here.

Action Research and the Integration of Theory and Practice

Zazzali and Klein raise several issues about the contemporary teaching of theatre and performance at university level. They seem especially preoccupied with two points. The first is the articulation of a link between theoretical and practical teaching components as ‘[w]e still educate our undergraduates through separate theoretical and practical courses to ostensibly prepare them for careers in entertainment industries’ (p. 271).  The second is a concern for interdisciplinarity which they see as an ideal that is however hard to implement in practice, given ‘the ethos of neoliberal individualism in higher education [which] forces students and faculty to pursue singular agendas at the expense of collaboration and interdisciplinarity’ (p. 262).

While I might not agree with a number of Zazzali and Klein’s assumptions, like for example that we still teach in the same ways that we were taught as undergraduate students, I do share in the point that the interdisciplinary integration of theory and practice is an important consideration in contemporary teaching methods, an objective in other words to be striven for. My overarching question in this entry therefore will be: how do we facilitate the integration of theory and practice in our teaching? I have personally tackled this question a number of times, aided by what in Educational Theory are called Action Research strategies. These are reflective strategies where the tutor sets up a research exercise revolving around a clear research question that relates to his or her pedagogical performance in class. The term was first used by Kurt Lewin, a German-American social psychologist, as far back as the 1940s, even though the basic principles which he suggested, involving ‘fact finding, planning, action, evaluation’ (Efron and Ravid 2013: 6), are still in use.

Action Research gives educators an opportunity to improve or refine their teaching skills. Education theorists Sara Efrat Efron and Ruth Ravid define it as follows:

 

Action research is usually defined as an inquiry conducted by educators in their own settings in order to advance their practice and improve their students’ learning. […] [It serves] as a vehicle model for modifying, changing, and improving the teaching-learning process. [Educators] feel that action research enhances their ability to grow professionally, become self-evaluative, and take responsibility for their own practice. (2013: 2)

 

Therefore, during Action Research exercises, the transmission of knowledge in the class or the studio is allied to a critique of the teaching methods involved.  For the educator, it focusses attention on issues that relate to how s/he teaches. The process typically involves: (i) the identification of a difficulty or obstacle to effective teaching/learning (ii) the collection of data related to the problem (iii) the evaluation of the data collected (iv) the development and application of a plan that addresses the problem (v) evaluation of the results emerging from the study (vi) repetition as necessary.

I have personally used Action Research in the past to problematize how practical workshops can complement conventional lecture-based approaches to teaching theatre theory and history. I am keen to experience and understand how lecture- and studio-based pedagogies can be fused together. As a case-study I have used a module that I teach at the University of Malta titled ‘Tradition and Transmission in Performance’, which uses Stanislavsky to discuss how transmission processes facilitate the formation of theatre traditions. The following Action Research questions were asked:

  • How much practical work should be used? What is its ratio to the lecturing component?
  • What strategies can be adopted to ensure complementarity and balance?
  • Does the practical work overshadow the theoretical and/or historical material?
  • Do students fail to create links between the lecturing and practical components?
  • Does the reduction in lecturing lead to a loss of material covered? If yes, what strategies can be adopted to counter such a loss?

Action Research has suggested that a fusion of practice- and lecture-based pedagogies helps the educator to develop a learning atmosphere in which the material is initially elicited from the students but then refined by the lecturer. For example, in one exercise students were asked to create a simple physical routine and to transmit this to each other through (i) direct, one-to-one transmission, (ii) a written-down description, and/or (iii) a video-reproduction. (This exercise is an adaptation of the Reconstruction activity found in Pitches 2003: 149.) The students were subsequently encouraged to reflect and comment on their process, which I then substantiated through a more formal presentation about transmission processes and channels. The class therefore featured a constant move between practical exercises, reflection from the students, and more formal lecturing-components, making students participants rather than simply observers to knowledge-creation processes.

Other contributors to these blog responses have opted to draw parallels with the undergraduate teaching carried out at the School of Performance and Cultural Industries at the University of Leeds. During the first half of 2017 I was a visitor to the School, where amongst other things I had the chance to look at their undergraduate programme and the promise it makes to expose its students to ‘real-world experience and the wider context of the cultural industries’. While I far from received, in such a short period of time, a holistic understanding of its working, I did find myself in a position of someone who could look at the programme as an outsider. Integral to the programme is the commitment to research-led teaching, where ‘students [are engaged] at the cutting edge of knowledge as it is developed’. This is, of course, not unique to Leeds – at the University of Malta where I work the commitment to research-led teaching is equally strong – but I was certainly surprised to see this element downplayed in Zazzali and Klein. In a way, a commitment or otherwise to research-led teaching – whether taking the form of Action Research exercises, research projects involving students with professional researchers, interdisciplinary projects between departments, etc. – informs the very aims and objectives of tertiary education, considering that universities traditionally aim not only to transmit knowledge but also to create it.

Dr Stefan Aquilina, Lecturer in Theatre Studies, School of Performing Arts, University of Malta

 

References

Efron, S. E. and R. Ravid (2013) Action Research in Education: A Practical Guide. New York and London: The Guilford Press

 Pitches, J. (2003) Vsevolod Meyerhold. London and New York: Routledge.

 

Reflections Task 29 and Task 30 – Lore (Invented)

Dear Marie,

many thanks for task 29. Below you can find my answer to the equation and further down the instructions for Task 30.

Reflections Task 29 – Yoga + Female=? 

Reflection 1: If there ever was a can of worms, this is the one! I have no idea where to start, and I am worried that whatever I say or do will inevitably cause offense. This probably says quite a lot already!

Reflection 2: I decide to take menstruation as the most obvious way in, most obvious to me that is! Menstruation, pregnancy and more generally ‘women’s health’ is an area that is well covered by Iyengar Yoga.  There are clear do and dont’s, but then again there is discrepancy in the way these guidelines are followed.

Memory: In classes with Silvia, we had to go and tell her when we had our period. Then she would ask: ‘Beginning, middle or end?’ and according to the answer she would say something like ‘take it easy today’. If you were found out doing strenuous standing poses on the first day of your menstruation, you would get a proper told off. In a class with another teacher I trained though, any aberration from the class she was teaching was unacceptable.Everybody was doing like everybody else and if you had your period and didn’t feel well, you should have stayed at home!

Reflection 3: There was something empowering about going to Silvia and letting her know about my menstrual cycle. There was an intimacy I enjoyed but also a sense of pride: yes, everything is working, everything is tick-tocking, I am a woman and yoga is doing me good.

As my way into the task, I revisited the short essay The Practice of Women During the Whole Month written by Geeta Iyengar and published by the Iyengar Yoga Association UK in 2009. This was probably a lecture Geeta gave for an Indian audience but through its publication it also reached practitioners in the UK.

Reflection 4:I am surprised to find that Geeta sounds a bit tentative at the beginning, maybe she had the same walking-on-egg-shells feeling that I got when I received the task. She asserts that ‘as far as the practice of yoga is concerned, there is no difference between men and women’ (2009: 1). And then she continues: ‘however, we must recognise some basic differences as far as the biological body is concerned’ (2009: 1). The question then is ‘how we adapt the practice so that it brings a proper balance’ (Iyengar 2009: 1). The rest of the essay gives a brief account of the hormonal changes that the female body undergoes during a month and then offers suggestions and programmes of practice specific to the various points of the menstrual cycle.

Reflection 5 (With apologies for over-sharing): I roughly calculate that I am in the middle of my menstrual cycle, and since I haven’t experienced problems with my fertility, I can do all the poses without adjustments. Again, there is a sense of empowerment and pride: I feel good that I am able to take care of myself and that I am doing something which seems designed to keep me healthy, and would I wish for it, fertile.

By this time, the equation is looking something like this: Yoga + Female = Mother.

Reflection 6: In view of the psychological and physical toll that infertility can take on men and women, it would feel callous to find anything wrong with this. What can be at fault with a practice that has a good understanding of the reproductive system, it is non-invasive and can help with the maintenance or restoration of hormonal balance?

But something nags me.

Reflection 7: There is something Apollonian in the equation. I see in it the glow of health, I hear in it the laughter of children (to come), I sense in it the deep satisfaction that comes from a body that works well. Hormonal imbalance is to be treated; yearnings, misfits, bad moods, pains and aches are to be minimised; the body, and with it the woman who owns, is, and takes care of this body, needs to be regulated.

Reflection 8: Add a bit of early Foucault in the mix, and the equation turns into a recipe for governmentality. Yoga becomes a method for disciplining the (female) population. But this is early Foucault and if anything, we know now, as Foucault understood, that there can be (em)power(ment) in discipline. But the nagging continues.

Reflection 9: It crystallizes around a sense that not enough space is made for suffering. Not that yoga shields one from it.  Rather, that the practice does not offer the space to sit with it, to acknowledge it, to see it, to find meaning in it.

Why am I surprised? Yoga, is after all, supposed to shed light onto our darkness. But what happens to our darkness, I ask? Does it by default remain that which we are running away from, one sun salutation at a time?

Task 30 – Lore (Invented)

Publications on yoga asanas tend to consist of photographs and written text.  This often describes how the posture needs to be done, then there is a list of the health benefits and in some cases there is a bit of information on the name of the posture and its position within the Hinduist pantheon. B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga is probably the first publication that set up this model.

With this task I would like to invite you to invent your own lore for postures of your own choice. Feel free to arbitrate on what a posture may be good for, when it should or should not be done, which parts of your culture it might echo and which aspects of your history it is connected to. You have to choose existing postures, but you can choose any ones you want. You have total freedom as to what can go in the text.

Forest of Impulses

This is an accompaniment piece to an essay due to be published in the Special Issue 9.2 ‘Training for Immersive, Interactive and Participatory Theatre’ of Theatre, Dance and Performance Training Journal.

The Real Health Center was an immersive and participatory performance in a forest in Helsinki, Finland in August 2016. In the heart of that performance was a one-on-one scene, where a ‘doctor’ (actor) in a forest met a ‘patient’ (participant), whilst at the same time the forest was also acting as a doctor. The one-on-one lasted twenty minutes.

The essay due to be published in the journal as well as this post aim to shed light on the actor’s technique in participatory and immersive performances – this post will do so through the use of audiovisual material. The material who will watch below was captured with two GoPro action cameras that were attached to the foreheads of both the actor and participant. This allowed recording the points of view of both the actor and the participant in a one-on-one scene and so nobody else needed to be present in the scene for the recording.

Impulse is one of the core concepts I use in my research. I’m trying to capture it on video to show how it relates to the actor’s technique in this kind of performances. In these videos you can see some impulses at work – such as can be seen in the very beginning of clip 2 – , but that is not the main reason I have chosen these videos. I have chosen them because they show a through-line from initial sensing phase to a final phase of meaning emerging, which in the instance of these videos is also articulated in words by the participant. The videos show how the actor can open up sensing pathways for the participant and how the meaning can be considered as being initiated by the participant and not the actor – despite the path to meaning being opened up by the actor’s technique.

In this particular scene, the specific form of interaction between doctor and patient is to be developed from each participant, in the way that they want it to be developed. There is no fixed form, but the form is to be searched for and created with the participant to enable a unique meaning in a unique form for each unique participant.

The actor and the participant are meeting for the first time in the scene. The video is about five minutes into the scene. They have found their way under a big fallen tree. The video begins with the actor sensing the environment and opening pathways for the impulses of the participant to move through. She’s at first opening up pathways through the senses of sight, sound, smell and touch which invite a meaning to emerge.

The point of view of the actor is on the left and the participant is on the right.

Clip 1 (4.04) SENSE OF MEANING

 

In the instance of this scene, one impulse on a micro level is the impulse to move the focus of the eyes. It is a good starting point for interaction, because it’s something that we almost always already do. This way the actor doesn’t need to ask for anything extra from the participant in order to start developing an impulse towards meaning. In these videos we can’t see for sure whether she picks up the initial focus from the participant, but we see later developments: how an action emerges, is shared and leads to a meaning. Even though the actor helps to open up the pathways, it’s the meaning of the participant she is inviting to emerge.

The question ‘Why have you come to see the doctor today?’ is asked when the shared action is simultaneously unfolding and this takes the co-developed action further. At this fork in the path the connection between the actor and the participant transforms into touch. Towards the end of the first video it’s possible to already see a clear shared action and sense a meaning emerging.

The environment as a mediator is crucial in the interaction, but in this post I’m leaving it out  in order to better focus on the actor and the participant and how their co-created action develops into a meaning.

The following video shows the situation just a few moments after the previous one. The shared action has developed into a situation where the participant is resting on the spot where his hand was previously buried.

This video is shown from the point of view of the actor. 

Clip 2 (1. 52) ARTICULATION OF MEANING

 

In the beginning of the video it’s possible to see one clear moment where the impulse of the participant is picked up and developed by the actor. While lying on the ground the participant reflects on how there are some kind of eggs on the underside of the fallen tree. This observation is later developed into a reflection about mortality.

When developing the impulse the actor is searching for a meaning that she interprets as the most important for the participant. Impulse as such is not limited to sight and it doesn’t need to be articulated in words. It can arise from any of the senses. In my essay in TDPT Issue 9.2 you’ll find a description of an impulse through touch. The impulse you see on the video I have chosen as another example, because it’s such a clear one.

At a point in the discussion the participant introduces the concept of his own grave. It’s a meaning for the scene which has emerged through the shared action – through the action of burying his hand earlier. A grave hasn’t been an image we have worked with in the rehearsals or an image the actor is trying to convey to the participant. It’s an image that emerges from the participant as a result of a precise shared action of burying his hand earlier combined with the reflection in a new bodily situation where he’s enveloped by a blanket and the fallen tree.

Because we can’t see everything that has happened in the scene in the videos, I can’t say for sure whether the earliest possible starting point for the action has been the participant – if indeed it can ever be stated – , but I can say that the meaning has emerged from a clear shared action between the actor, the participant and the environment. This is what we are trying to train: an actor’s technique in which the meaning would be allowed to emerge from the participant (and from the environment), but the precision of the actor’s technique enables it to emerge. Precision creates meaning in our forests of impulses.

Clip 3 (2.25) CODA


Actor in the videos: Emilia Kokko. 

For credits of the final performance, go here.

Week extension to Book Reviews Editor Deadline – Now 18th May

Call for Book Reviews Editor (Extended Deadline)

Journal of Theatre, Dance and Performance Training (TDPT), Routledge

 The co-editors of the international journal, Theatre, Dance and Performance Training,Professor Jonathan Pitches (University of Leeds) and Dr Libby Worth (Royal Holloway, University of London) are seeking to recruit a Book Reviews Editor to work closely with them and with the rest of the editorial team, on this very successful journal, published by Routledge.  Now in its 8thyear, the journal runs to 3 issues annually and attracts contributions from scholars and practitioners across the globe. As part of our tenth birthday celebrations, we are planning to expand to four issues per year and this appointment is a reflection of our expansion both in ambition and audience reach.

We seek a highly creative, motivated, organised and collegiate individual with demonstrable specialism in theatre, dance and / or performer training to oversee a step-change in the review provision the journal offers. We pride ourselves on the diversity of reviews offered within the pages of TDPT and as such we are dividing up the Review Editor role into two – with the review of training events already covered by current editorial expertise.  The new Book Reviews Editor will work closely with the Events Review Editor building up the Books Review section of the journal to provide an appropriately global perspective on publications in the field, offering both critical and celebratory impetus to performer training research. Our book reviews section includes critical evaluation of new books and reviews of classic texts (often by invested practitioners) and it will be part of the Editor’s brief to innovate further within this remit, perhaps to establish dialogic reviews or themed reviews of more than one book.

In addition to the opportunities to shape the book reviews development, working on TDPT will offer you unique insights into academic publication and provide you with opportunities to develop your own networks with scholars and practitioners, as well as to contribute to wider discussions about the content and continued development of the journal.

You should be:

  • An active researcher of performer training with a good knowledge base of current published work in the field.
  • Networked nationally and/or internationally in performer training circles.
  • An individual with some experience of editing and/or peer review in theatre related academic work.
  • Interested and embedded in the contemporary debates concerning training and performance and committed to the principles of ethical research.
  • Highly organised, efficient with excellent communication skills.

Book Reviewer Editor’s responsibilities include:

  • Leading on the development of an internationally ambitious reviews section, with critical insight and imagination.
  • Establishing relationships with appropriate publishers and acting as a conduit for review writers.
  • Inviting or commissioning book reviews and ‘Re-reviews’ from appropriate people in the field of performer training.
  • Working closely with Review writers to ensure a fit with the TDPT ethos and style.
  • Liaising with the Journal’s co-editors and Special Issue guest editors to provide regular updates on the status and content of submitted Reviews.
  • Acting as an advocate for the journal at conferences and symposia.
  • Managing the submission of Review manuscripts through the web-based submission tool ScholarOne.
  • Attending if possible the Associate Editors’ AGM (either in person or by Skype).
  • Liaising with publishing staff at Routledge, Taylor and Francis as required.

In keeping with the rest of the roles in the TDPT team, the post is unpaid but all travel and expenses will be paid.

To apply please send a CV and a one-page statement of your relevant skills, and interests including your aspirations for building an exceptional profile for the Book Reviews section in TDPT to j.pitches@leeds.ac.ukand libby.worth@leeds.ac.uk

For more information and an informal discussion please contact: Professor Jonathan Pitches j.pitches@leeds.ac.ukand/or Dr Libby Worth libby.Worth@rhul.ac.uk

Deadline for applications is 5pm(GMT), May 18th 2018.

Reflections Task 28 and Task 29 – Female + yoga = ?

Dear Maria,

Thanks for task 28. See my reflections below and your new Task 29 – Female + yoga = ?

Reflections on Inconspicuous

Transcription of audio recording while carrying out task 28:

(Im at a busy opening event of beach front in Horsens (Langelinje) with events, games and stalls. Imagine kids running around and loud music playing)

‘I just spotted one of my yoga students about 20 feet away…

(pause)

I decide to attempt an inconspicuous Sun Salutation – knowing I will probably fail – or at least have to amend the movement to not ….

give away that I’m trying to do yoga.

There’s something about the environment here as

being around kids, being around play makes the yoga practice

less visible…

Parents play with their kids – pick them up – there’s lots of physical activity happening. Perhaps I can blend in…

(pause)

The first moves are easy, I can stretch my arms over my head and have a little yawn. Second movement is easy enough. I bend forward and pretend to tie my shoelaces. I lift my head up and extend … and look… out over the sea … and then it gets tricky.

How can I …

do Chaturanga and not clearly be doing a yoga posture, or I suppose any exercise posture. I crawl forward and pretend to be looking for something in the grass. I skip Upward Dog as this seems to be too obvious. On walking my hands back, I lift my hips up a little bit and come into a half-hearted version of Downward Dog. Eventually I come back to checking my shoelaces again and then rise up to standing.

I think I got away with this one.’

NEW SCENE

(shopping in the local supermarket. Music playing in the background and there are sounds of trolley wheels and occasional chatting.)

‘I’m self-consciously continuing my testing. Luckily it’s Saturday after 6 pm so it’s not so busy. I am – nevertheless – aware that there might be CCTV cameras everywhere. I look around… yes there are cameras.

I’m in the vegetable department which is empty. I look for spring onions and decide it’s a good idea to test whether I can get away with the three postures I have decide on: Tree posture, half moon posture and mountain posture

I do tree posture. I can hide behind the cucumbers.

Half moon posture… I bend forward and raise one leg up…

(here I realise that it’s partly a question of how long I stay in postures that makes it inconspicuous or not. Anyone can drop an apple and bend over to pick it up with one leg raised and get away with it.)

I do mountain pose. Again –apart from looking like I forgot what I came into the shop for – I can get away with this pose.

(pause … with the clicking sound of trolley wheels)

I’m in the coffee department. I’ll try it one more time.

When does the yoga practice become something else…?

(sound of my breathing)

And again… I walk and I did it.

It’s quite satisfying actually. It’s completely changing how I experience my food shopping. I suddenly hang out in the supermarket. Spend time here. For the first time ever, I notice the ceilings and the changes of temperature between different areas.

(the task makes me forget what I came to the shop for and I browse around for a while up and down the same aisles.)

I map the layout of the frozen goods and the tinned food. I notice that there are different types of pasta if I look further down.’

(pause)

Task 29 – Female + yoga = ?

Since task 26 and your reference to the work of Polly Penrose – ‘I was never good at yoga’– (and perhaps also thinking back at a blog post I wrote years ago together with some female yoga friends about women and yoga) my thoughts have been circling around the subject of gender within the practice of yoga.

It has been a condition for our project from the outset that we were two women working together. I am curious to bring this aspect to the surface for this task. It may be an interesting subject, it may also be completely irrelevant for what we’re doing. It felt important to acknowledge it, though. I’m conscious of the weight of this subject and so am trying to make this task as open and non-prescriptive as I can. Here it goes…

For your next task I want you to consider the following:

What is it to do the yoga practice in the awareness of being female? The task does not prescribe a certain understanding of what ‘female’ means (to you or the world) and whether this applies to biology or politics or social conventions. The task is to do your usual practice with this question in mind.

I am interested in you exploring the multiple ways one can both physically test and mentally consider this question. How can these multiple ways of considering the two words ‘female’ and ‘yoga’ create a network of possible ways to understand their relationship?

Bring back any aspect of your reflections to the blog.

Enjoy!

Challenging the Challenges Facing C21st Theatre Training: Neoliberalism and Participation

The following post is part of a series of responses that are framed by Jonathan Pitches here.

Neoliberalism and Participation

Peter Zazzali and Jeanne Klein’s article on revising an undergraduate education in the US context have incited a series of responses that are particular to the context in the UK. Although Zazzali & Klein begin by outlining the ‘politically conservative’ and ‘market-driven’ (2015: 261) challenges of US higher education, their article does little to move beyond a limiting, somewhat epistemologically conservative paradigm of what theatre and performance are, and what studies in theatre and performance can be, at an undergraduate level.

In probably the most obvious move, their article aligns graduate ‘success’ with employment in the creative industries, citing statistics about employment destinations in the professions. This is counterposed by the ethical question they cite by Marvin Carlson about the thousands of graduates released into an oversaturated job market (2015: 262). Of course, liberal arts education and pathways into tertiary education and outwards into job markets are complex. Yet, this narrow sense of training in theatre misinterprets the role of university education, which, in the UK in particular, is distinct from conservatoire training, in which students are ostensibly trained ‘for industry’. Instructors and lecturers teaching university courses, on the contrary, may be deeply enmeshed with industry in different capacities (many instructors maintain healthy links with professional practice, including maintaining profiles as practitioners). However, given the different demands, aims and outcomes of a university degree in the UK, which is usually a single subject or a double major, rather than discrete courses; the rhetoric of HE must lie beyond simple mechanistic assumptions that align instruction with employment; or curriculum design with market trends.

Jan Cohen-Cruz (2010; 2015) as director of Imagining America puts forward a compelling set of arguments for how and why the undergraduate curricula in the USA are already engaged in public scholarship. In a national programme with extensive reach that has been operational since 1999, Imagining America is a project which engages with the UG curriculum to consider how the public good, graduate career trajectories and socially engaged teaching and learning can be a feature of curricula. Since Imagining America is a national network there are numerous publicly engaged scholars, artists, designers, students, and community members working toward the democratic transformation of higher education and civic life under its aegis.

Cruz and the project (including Public – the journal associated with Imagining America) have made a significant difference to public scholarship that is about engaging students in real, cross-sectoral collaborative projects that can have impact beyond institutions. It is thus odd to note that in their article related to the state of UG education in theatre and performance in the USA, Zazzali and Klein (2015) appear to have overlooked this systemic, nationwide, significant project that has been embedded in many institutions from Michigan to New York City and more.

Cohen-Cruz proposes a name for the kinds of projects that may occur in cross sectoral partnerships – uncommon partnerships – that situate learning in amongst the direct problems that are particular to the local community. In her brief introduction to the UK context in Cohen Cruz’ book Remapping Performance, Helen Nicholson states that cross sector collaboration ‘throws values and beliefs into relief, raising questions about how the expectations of artists, participants, funders, and others involved in the process converge’ (2015: 24). What Nicholson goes on to demonstrate is that sectors in participatory arts, development and socially engaged practice are already aware of the tensions between ‘use’ and ornament (also discussed by Belfiore and Bennett, 2008 as well as Matarasso, 1997). When these factors are folded into the context of higher education, this can raise problems of emphasis, in which pedagogies, training and preparation need to attend to the contexts graduates will face having undertaken the course. At present, in the UK, this context is one in which students may face increasing precarity and thus be inclined to expect a curriculum that is industry-aligned.

Another entry point for my response to the article concerns the place and value of theatre and performance in the context of austerity, precarity and the neoliberal context of higher education in the UK. I take as the core provocation the consternation about ‘unstable and constantly changing worlds, and what it means to accept adult responsibilities as self-sufficient and financially secure people’ (Zazzali & Klein, 2015: 262). In the article, Zazzali & Klein position the curriculum as responsive to the market – needing to teach undergraduate students how to thrive in a mainstream cultural industry. While no doubt a desire for many students of theatre and performance to enter the cultural industries, the ever-increasing student fees in the UK and the cuts and austerity measures that threaten the vitality of the arts industries, there is the need to see beyond the immediate value of skills and techniques of the theatre and the virtuosic performing artist (discussed by Garoian, 2013: and Gaorian & Gaudelius, 2008) to a wider understanding of cultural industries.

Instead, following Jill Dolan’s important contribution to theatre studies as rehearsing democracy (2001), my thoughts correlate with how the curriculum might work through theatre to develop students’ agency, to consider the relations between theatre and the public sphere; to construct a curriculum and pedagogy that is socially engaged, and about widening access, and to see the arts and education as mutually informing, generative, and iterative.

Whereas the Zazzali & Klein essay (2015) proposes some of the strategies that make studying theatre & performance engaging, kinaesthetic, embodied and collaborative, these intrinsic qualities of the performing arts are not, in themselves, significant in the context of an increasingly marginalised arts economy and a precarious social and economic context for graduates. This suggests curricula that braid together skills and training in theatre technique and its application (widely taught in the UK as applied theatre or socially

engaged practice). At the core of many UK Theatre programmes at HE level, including our own at the School of PCI at Leeds, there is a strong external focus – not merely to instrumentalise students for the world of work, but to begin training students in engaged, creative entrepreneurship. Ostensibly then, the approach is one that seeks to engender skills in moving beyond creative ideas, towards application; beyond inspiration to action that is viable in practice.

Dolan’s core argument is for the commitment of theatre & performance to pedagogies of social and political impact. She draws on Janelle Reinelt, who offers that theatres are:

patronized by a consensual community of citizen-spectators who come together at stagings of the social imaginary in order to consider and experience affirmation, contestation, and reworking of various material and discursive practices pertinent to the constitution of a democratic society’ (Reinelt, 1998: 286). It’s only our history of denigrating artistic practice as nonideological and ahistorical that sets it (and other cultural representations) outside the public sphere. (Dolan, 2001: 10)

This, and Dolan’s other work on geographies of learning, suggests the importance of work with students that is informed by, and informs, local contexts and practices. Partly, this needs to be driven by faculty research interests, local opportunities and needs identified by willing partners. Crucially, however, these must maintain criticality and not be subsumed into the kinds of aesthetic economies critiqued by Jen Harvie in Fair Play (2013) – whereby participation and the claim for radical democratic practices in performance cover over the marketization and depoliticisation of issues related to social welfare. In other words, we are not attempting to instrumentalise the curriculum because of marketization of Higher Education, but to give real world applications, experiences and opportunities to students as they are developing as artists/ practitioners. What needs to be clarified in this kind of engaged, dual-focus curriculum is the set of core values that drives the work so that projects and outcomes are not merely co-opted by market related whims. Economist David Harvey says that academics have a ‘crucial role to play in trying to resist the neoliberalization of the academy, which is largely about organizing within the academy … creating spaces within the academy, where things could be said, written, discussed and ideas promulgated. Right now those spaces are more under threat then they have been in many years’ (in Pender, 2007: 14).

The collective Critical Art Ensemble (2012) explores the need for radical revision of artistic resistance to the creep of neoliberal values. For them, instead of operating as individual artists in pursuit of secure future, performance interventions can offer tactics of alliance, resistance and consolidate networks of social solidarity. Similarly, I would suggest that what is needed in the UG curriculum in the UK is a sense of how schools in theatre and performance can promote pedagogies of engagement, politicised conscientisation, and external partnerships. In our School, as in many across

the UK, partnerships are flourishing. But this moves beyond a somewhat cynical sense of manufacturing collaborations where funding opportunities might follow. Instead, what I would hope to promote across the UG curriculum are the values of socially engaged practice. There is the necessity to develop reciprocal, generous, and sustainable partnerships in community based contexts including with schools, galleries, museums and other cultural institutions, but also more widely in areas that would not be obvious graduate employment destinations, but that correspond with aims for socially engaged pedagogies, including criminal justice settings, mental health contexts and hospitals.

North American educationalist Henry Giroux states:

The demise of democracy is now matched by the disappearance of vital public spheres and the exhaustion of intellectuals. Instead of critical and public intellectuals, faculty are increasingly defined less as intellectuals than as technicians, specialist and grant writers. Nor is there any attempt to legitimate higher education as a fundamental sphere for creating the agents necessary for an aspiring democracy. (Giroux, 2010: online).

To close, Giroux’s perspective signals the value of university courses as locations for ideologically engaged artist-scholars to promote the kind of engaged outward facing pedagogies I have offered as counterpoints to the models in Zazzali & Klein.

— Dr Aylwyn Walsh, Lecturer in Applied Theatre and Intervention, University of Leeds, School of Performance and Cultural Industries

References:

Belfiore, E. & Bennett, O. (2008) The Social Impact of the Arts: An Intellectual History. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Brown, M.C. (2011) Inciting the Social Imagination: Education Research for the Public Good. Imagining America. Paper 21.
 Available at: http://surface.syr.edu/ia/21.

Cohen-Cruz, J. (2015) Remapping Performance: Common Ground, Uncommon Partners. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Cohen-Cruz, J. (2010) Engaging Performance: Theater as Call and Response. New York: Routledge.

Critical Art Ensemble (2012) Reinventing Precarity. TDR: The Drama review. 56(4): pp. 49 – 61.

Dolan, J. (2001). Rehearsing democracy: Advocacy, public intellectuals, and civic engagement in theatre and performance studies. Theatre Topics, 11(1): pp. 1-17.

Garoian, C.R. & Gaudelius, Y. (2008) Spectacle Pedagogy: Art, Politics, and Visual Culture. State University of New York Press: New York.

Garoian, C.R. (2013) The Prosthetic Pedagogy of Art: Embodied Research and Practice. State University of New York Press: New York.

Giroux, H.A. (2010) The Disappearing Intellectual in the Age of Economic Darwinism, in Truthout [online] Available at http://www.truth-out.org/archive/item/90639:henry-agiroux–the-disappearing-intellectual-in-the-age-ofeconomic-darwinism.

Harvie, J. (2013) Fair Play: Art, Performance and Neoliberalism. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Matarasso, F. (1997) ‘Use or Ornament? The Social Impact of Participation in the Arts’. London: Comedia.

Nicholson. H. (2015) The Silence within the Noise: Reflections from the UK on “A Vibrant Hybridity”. In J. Cohen-Cruz, Remapping Performance: Common Ground, Uncommon Partners. pp. 22 – 26.

Orphan, C., Eatman, T., and Bush, A. (2011) “What is the Future of Civic Engagement in Higher Education? Next Generation Engagement: Undergraduates, Graduate Students and Early Career Faculty” Imagining America. Paper 22. http://surface.syr.edu/ia/22

Pender, S. (2007) “In Interview with David Harvey,” Studies in Social Justice 4(1).

Reinelt, J. (1998) Notes for a Radical Democratic Theater: Productive Crises and the Challenge of Indeterminacy. Staging Resistance: Essays on Political Theatre. Eds. Jeanne Colleran and Jenny S. Spencer. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan Press, pp. 283-300.

Challenging the challenges facing C21st Theatre Training

A response to Zazzali and Klein’s ‘Toward Revising Undergraduate Theatre Education’ (2015).

 

Framing Statement

Despite its focus on US Higher Education, Peter Zazzali and Jeanne Klein’s 2015 article for Theater Topics, ‘Toward Revising Undergraduate Theatre Education’ has provoked several discussions within our UK-based Research Group. The following series of reflections are an attempt to capture some of our discussions and to draw out some urgent, if familiar, themes.

In their introduction, Zazzali and Klein make two clear statements of intent:

First, we address several interdependent challenges facing undergraduate theatre training and the changing characteristics of today’s students. We then offer initiatives for revising an undergraduate theatre curriculum. (2015: 261)

As a Research Group, with a range of distinct teaching and research areas (including performer training, directing, applied theatre and technical theatre), we offer here, in a series of blog essays, a set of critical responses to the context sketched out in Zazzali & Klein’s essay.  With diverse teaching experience and from backgrounds in Greece, Cyprus, South Africa, Malta, the US and England, the group has used the essay to provoke consideration of both parts of Zazzali and Klein’s remit: current challenges and future actions for C21st Theatre Training. In necessarily individual, sometimes strident position statements, we consider an alternative landscape of pedagogical challenge and curriculum revision.  Our first essays cover the following themes: employability challenges in the neoliberal context of Higher Education and the means by which they might be countered; technology and pedagogy; interdisciplinarity and research-led teaching; lighting, training and collaboration.

Contributions are by members of the Performance Training, Preparation and Pedagogy Research Group, University of Leeds. 

Performance Training, Preparation and Pedagogy