Case Study 2

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The University of Derby (College of Arts) and Derby Theatre: Engaging in Pedagogic and Artistic Practice in a ‘Learning Theatre’.

“How can we ensure that we achieve both excellent pedagogical experiences and great arts?”, Darren Daly

The collaborators

Derby Theatre is an organisation that supports training, mentorship and artistic excellence, bringing together creative professionals and audiences to share stories and take artistic risks.

The College of Arts at the University of Derby offers a range of creative disciplines including visual art, design, media and performing arts subjects. There is a strong focus on collaboration and preparations for creating work within a professional practice.

The frame of this collaboration

The College of Arts and Derby Theatre work in close partnership. The academic team is based in the theatre building and many lectures and practical sessions are under the same roof. The partnership strives to find ways in which to share resources and experiences, resulting in many of the technical theatre students working on the main house productions. There is a sense of daily collaboration in the interactions between departments, staff and students, and some of these layers appear to work seamlessly without documentation or unnecessary structure, but within a kind of silent contract arising from corridor discussions. The proximity of the shared environment here seems an essential ingredient in discovering a regularity in the way the pedagogic and theatrical practices overlap.

This presentation focused on one particular strand of the partners’ collaboration:

Company Aside  – a professional practice placement scheme that sees students working alongside and shadowing theatre specialists in a range of areas. The jobs undertaken by the students include roles in stage management, directing and marketing during a professional Derby Theatre production.

Shared aims and outcomes

The joint endeavour of Derby Theatre and the College of Arts is to exchange and influence their pedagogic and artistic practices and enable students to gain hands-on experience of theatre making and presenting approaches. The ultimate goal is to provide students with a contextual and technical understanding of professional theatre in order to support their venture into life beyond university and possible working futures in the arts.

Risks, challenges and key issues

Discussing the Company Aside project, Darren and Caroline raised some key challenges in their collaboration process. These focused primarily on the difficulties of bringing together two different sectors with very different modes of operating. Caroline suggested problems in terms of the practice work of the theatre being integrated into an already established format of courses in the University; Darren mentioned students being placed on the outskirts of the project when it came to the final week of dress rehearsals/technical runs when professional practitioners focused on the ‘professionalism’ of the show.

What is evident is that there is a clear identification of where the difficulties lay in this scheme, but still a strong desire to discover more effective ways of making the collaboration work for all involved. There seems to be an underlying knowledge of the exciting possibilities this collaboration could create for the students and an earnest dedication to reach the potentials of the project. In order to obtain this goal, Derby Theatre and the College of Arts have created a ‘moving on’ document that draws out the arising issues from the Company Aside scheme and seeks to discover ways to support the aims and objectives for all involved.

Some of the key issues and solutions include:

Partnership and course integration:

  • Students and academics on the theatre’s programming group, ensuring that the theatre’s offer is relevant and timely for degree modules
  • Weekly meetings between theatre and academic staff allow better planning
  • Academic staff structuring their modules with what is being programmed at the theatre thus developing a culture of student engagement with both the main house and studio programme
  • The development of long-term, not one-off projects.

Project Perceptions:

  • Clearer induction for all staff
  • Reduced number of roles allowing staff to have a clearer focus
  • Reflective process through the research and ongoing formative evaluation

Quality of student support:

  • Full staff training programme to support understanding and to develop facilitation skills
  • Creation of a new permanent full-time role that straddles the Learning and Technical Departments: Stage Manager and Learning Coordinator.  This role allows for communication with the rehearsal room to maximise learning opportunities.  The aim of the role is to ensure a positive and supported experience for the students.  Freelance staff had previously taken on all stage management roles and this didn’t allow for a fully supported learner journey.

Methods of collaboration

The nature of collaboration here is an interesting one. Although there is a shared ethos of enabling a learning experience within a professional theatre setting, it has evidently been a challenge to find means of merging pedagogic practice and artistic programming to support this vision whilst maintaining a sense of individual cultures. The development structure drawn up by Derby Theatre and the College of Arts is a coherent document that outlines the issues from the initial Company Aside scheme and provides solutions to pilot for the next round. Under the headings of ‘Challenges’ and ‘Solutions’, the plan highlights the individual aims, objectives and interests of each party, providing a meeting ground. It considers reflections by the students and the two organisations involved to achieve a clear and uncompromised vision of the collaboration. The document acts as a contract of agreement, which all parties can refer back to, and much like a job specification, provides a clear understanding of what exactly is being provided by whom.

Collaborating speakers

Caroline Barth, Head of Learning, Derby Theatre

Darren Daly, Lecturer in Theatre Arts, University of Derby


Caroline Barth:

Darren Daly:

Web links

Derby Theatre ‘Learning Theatre’

University of Derby, College of Arts