Case Study 1

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The University of Nottingham and New Perspectives Theatre Company: Collaborating for Employability

“Relationships are key… lots of coffee… it’s about talking, talking and talking”, Jo Robinson

The collaborators

New Perspectives is a small-scale rural touring theatre company based in Nottingham. It has been active for forty years and is an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation.

The School of English at the University of Nottingham hosts a combination of taught English disciplines, including Anglo-Saxon literature, English language, drama and performance, and creative writing.

The frame of this collaboration:

The form of this collaborative relationship takes on many different shapes, according to arising schemes, possibilities and desires for each partner. The four primary collaborations discussed at the conference were:

 Talks/Presentations – a continuing series of talks for the undergraduate English and Drama students by the Associate Directors of New Perspectives that explore various elements of their professional practices from the making process to the management of touring.

Learning Placements – students apply for a placement with New Perspectives through a formal application procedure in response to a job and person specifications.

Postgraduate Research Skills Training – AHRC Digital Transformations funded project that offered workshops and industry projects for doctoral students to gain skills in project management, communications, networking, public engagement, and the use of new methodologies.

 Collaborative Doctoral Award – AHRC funded PhD bursary exploring the ‘Re-Imaging of the Rural Touring Framework’, using the work of New Perspectives as a case study.

Shared aims and outcomes

The Work Related Learning Placements offer experience of real world work placements and focus on developing employability skills for the students. From a discussion with the university, New Perspectives formulate a project proposal considering their specific needs at the time and what they can offer in terms of learning possibilities. This is shaped into a job and person specifications which the students then respond to in a professional application. This procedure acts as a development of employability skills for the students (who also receive feedback on their applications and interviews) and as a guideline of expectations and deliverables for New Perspectives, the students involved and the University. The successful candidate receives a wide range of training in a professional setting and through a careful selection process, New Perspectives gains a strong trainee to support particular areas of the company’s organisational development.

Hidden Collections: The Research Skills Training scheme provided postgraduate students from the University of Nottingham with the opportunity to develop a wide range of transferable and specific skills in relation to digital archiving, including new archiving methodologies, project management, public engagement and communication. At a timely collision with the 40th anniversary of New Perspectives, the Company benefited from the their archive of forty years work being ‘brought alive’, as Sally Tye put it, making a continued legacy for the company.

The AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award, made to Tilly Branson, allowed New Perspectives to work closely with a high-quality researcher, reflecting on its practices within the rural tour whilst enabling Tilly to further her independent research interests.

Risks, challenges and key issues

Jo and Sally highlighted issues of scale as one of their key areas of concern. The pair are acutely aware of the imbalance between a small-scale theatre company with four members of full-time staff and a large institution that currently has over three hundred students per year group enrolled on the English course, with an additional one hundred MA and fifty PhD students – with the administrative structures to match.

There is a clear sensitivity from each party to the possibilities of what each side of this partnership can manage and support in terms of capacity, timescales and finances, within the individual projects. Jo suggested that New Perspectives were ‘Taking a risk by letting us into their organisation’, and that continued discussions were the only way to ensure the success of these projects and to open up future possibilities. She insisted that ‘relationships are key’ to such collaborative schemes and jokingly refers to having lots of coffee together as a method of establishing clear communication systems.

In this presentation, the pair negotiated a way through the possible difficulties in balancing the artistic process with an academic process. Sally argued that successful collaboration only arises when each party is able to stay truthful to their individual business plans, areas of interests, aspirations and discover a meeting point rather than a compromise.  She noted that New Perspectives feel under no obligation to take on regular placements unless they tie in with their current patterns of work. The company looked carefully at its artistic objectives, what it needed, could offer and could have the capacity to support, measuring carefully the benefits to themselves, the students and the university before entering into the project. It is then written up as a job specification and criteria are drawn up and proposed to the University. Sally also highlighted the need for the possibility for responding to possibilities that emerged during the initial stages of a collaboration. For example, she recalled that during one set of interviews for the placements the interviewees were found to be of such high calibre that the company offered two posts on projects instead of the projected one.

It is evident that the relationship developed between the partners encourages a flexibility and honesty that enables the on-going collaboration to flourish in different ways. Additionally, there has been a distinct mapping process beforehand that identifies expectations of the project through to its end, pre-empting problems that may arise. This map considered some essential questions:

  • How does the proposal benefit all parties involved?
  • What are the shared goals and outcomes?
  • What happens to the project afterwards?
  • Where does it go, where does it sit and who is responsible for it?

As Sally and Jo developed their discussion, it was clear they have created a trusting collaborative relationship. The cups of coffee allow for a more easy exchange that can’t be found solely in an exchange of emails. They return to what they believe to be the essential ingredients of their collaborative provision.

Methods of collaboration

  • Identifying projects that are of benefits to both parties
  • Having mutual genuine interests
  • Being able to say no
  • Having shared goals and outcomes
  • Clearly mapping out responsibilities
  • Being respectful of the culture of both organisations
  • Adapting flexibly in response changing needs/desires of the collaborators and the students involved
  • Talking, talking and talking

Collaborating speakers 

Sally Anne Tye, Executive Director of New Perspectives

Jo Robinson, Associate Professor in Drama and Performance at the University of Nottingham




 Web links

New Perspectives

University of Nottingham School of English

Hidden Collections

Student response to a New Perspectives work placement