Students and staff from the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries within Drama and Musical Theatre undergraduate courses visited London to engage theatre audiences with the practice-based research taught to the students at the University of Portsmouth.
I am a Lecturer in Musical Theatre and during the academic year 2015-2016 I taught on both the BA (Hons) Musical Theatre and BA (Hons) Drama and Performance courses. I taught the Practice as Research Units ‘Performance Project’ (Teaching Block 1) and ‘Practical Performance Project’ (Teaching Block 2) for two groups of second-year students (12 Drama and Performance students and 16 Musical Theatre students). I taught my practice-based research methodology and I encouraged the students to apply it to their own performance-related questions to generate new knowledge.
In my practice-based research I inject Aristophanes’ Ancient Greek comic theatrical devices with Pierre Bourdieu’s sociological theory and particularly with the concepts of social capital, habitus and symbolic violence in order to activate, explore and interrogate the ‘ridiculous’ in contemporary comedy. During Teaching Block 1, I used as a reflexive paradigm the construction of my performance Caryatid Unplugged which enabled the students to critically interrogate how my own identity, social capital, habitus and experiences of symbolic violence have been used as constructive elements in Caryatid Unplugged and have activated the ridiculousness of the piece.
In January 2016, I also invited the students to observe an open rehearsal of the construction of another piece, The Tenants, which gave them the opportunity to see in action how the performer’s multiple identities offer multiple opportunities for ridiculousness on stage. In Caryatid Unplugged I enacted my identity of the Greek woman and in The Tenants I enacted my identity of the individual who struggles with the housing crisis.
During Teaching Block 2, I mentored the students towards the creation of their own practice-based research projects and methodologies which resulted in two exceptional student performances in May 2016: Power Games (Drama and Performance group) and The Pigs (Musical Theatre group). I selected the one student who responded best to the process from each group, Ellen McLeod from Drama and Performance and Tom White from Musical Theatre, and I invited them to participate in the further development of both practice-based research projects Caryatid Unplugged and The Tenants. I also invited to the team the exceptional third-year student, Victoria Boyce, who wrote a dissertation on Musical Theatre and Feminism under my supervision.
With the kind support of CCI and the Centre for the Performing Arts at the University of Portsmouth and special thanks to Simon Brookes, Professor Catherine Harper, Matt Smith, Laura Doye, Steve Jones, Walid Benkhaled, Greg Smith, Russ Percy, George Burrows and Dr Joanna Bucknall, the students participated in a ten-day Research and Development stage of The Tenants between 10-22 of June and the redevelopment and performance of Caryatid Unplugged between 22 June-1 July which took place at the Rosemary Branch Theatre in London. After the performance we collected audience responses and the analysis of these responses will enable me to move further with my practice-based research.
I was delighted to offer the opportunity to these three young theatre-makers who I taught during the academic year to further engage with practice-based research in action and explore the impact of intelligent practice on the theatre industry. I hope to inspire them to continue exploring and making intelligent practice that will aim to benefit society and that will draw links between academia and communities.
Second-year Musical Theatre student who participated in the process, Tom White, commented: “Being able to work on not one but two shows in the space of three weeks was a fantastic opportunity for me as a student at the end of my second year.
Having engaged in this type of practice all year it was great to be able to transfer these skills into the professional environment. The Caryatid Unplugged was my first experience of performing in London so working in a theatre and engaging with the audience was great.
Going into my third year this experience will surely inform the practice I engage in, but also the way I personally create theatre. I was honoured to be a part of this project, I learnt so much but I also had some much fun.”
You can read more about the performance Caryatid Unplugged on the theatre’s website here, plus its review by the British Theatre Guide. You can also see more about The Tenants Research and Development project on Evi’s website.