Case Study 3

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De Montfort University and Curve Theatre: Collaborations: Inside and Outside the Curriculum

“The opportunity to work in a professional theatre has become a vital part of the degree experience.”  Nicola Daniels

The collaborators

The School of Arts at De Montfort University offers courses in performance arts, visual arts and arts management at undergraduate and postgraduate level. The teaching encourages practical and theoretical explorations into contemporary practices.

The Curve Theatre is a major producing theatre, housed in an innovative new-build, with a mission to create ‘exceptional and compelling experiences’ which ‘engage with a modern diverse audience.’

The frame of the collaboration

The collaboration between the Curve and DMU involves a series of schemes that support student skills development. The most prominent of these is an annual co-production, but the partnership also includes exhibitions and internships, performers coming to classes to talk about acting and current roles, and staff from DMU going into Curve to deliver pre and post-show discussions.

Internships

Curve hosts DMU students on modules designed to facilitate their engagement with creative industries; students are assigned to particular in-house productions and, with the support of tutors, create bespoke units of learning in areas including dramaturgy, assistant direction, workshop facilitation, and the production of educational resource packs.

Co-Production

The co-production is an annual project that began in 2011; it is one of the largest public-facing collaborative schemes between DMU and Curve. Students go through a formal procedure of audition to gain a part in a play selected by an associate director at Curve, which they then rehearse and perform under direction within the professional theatre setting.

Shared aims and outcomes

Through these collaborative projects, DMU and Curve aim to develop a working relationship of benefit to both partners, as well as to the students and wider audiences. In particular, some of the aims and outcomes listed by Tracy and Suba included:

  • Developing links with emerging artists and potential future professionals
  • Bringing new audiences into the building, in the form of family/friends of cast
  • Providing an invaluable professional experience alongside, rather than in place of, studies
  • The opportunity to work in professional theatre to develop skills and practices which will lead to future employment
  • The opportunity for DMU to work with a large cast, which would otherwise be prohibitively expensive
  • An opportunity to stage riskier/more provocative work
  • Provides DMU with a unique selling point for the course, attracting students
  • Makes the industry feel approachable for students

Risks, challenges and key issues

There were, however, risks and challenges alongside the opportunities, and Tracy and Suba went on to outline the key issues. They both mentioned a worry about simply exploiting the students as unpaid performers, rather than as people taking part in a learning experience. There was a challenge for Curve in being able to accommodate the range of skills and experiences the students bring with them, and this limits who can realistically be involved. The practice is very distinct from the one that DMU operate, in that students who audition at Curve are not guaranteed a part in the production.

The most recent of the co-productions was Mark Ravenhill’s play, Mother Clap’s Molly House, and this choice posed a series of difficult questions for the partnership, which Tracy detailed. Do we want the students to perform a piece that will challenge them? Or simply in a piece they can invite their grandparents to? Should we expose to challenging work in practice as well as in theory, forcing them to interact with work that discusses lives and worlds beyond their comprehension? Or work that, on religious and cultural grounds, they might not be able to discuss at home? Is the project about pushing at boundaries, or should it simply be a showcase of the work the students and Curve do? Is it about experience and development, or simply about giving students an opportunity to perform? She ends with stating that all these elements are appropriate in different ways; but these are the conversations that need to be had, and choices that need to be defined.

Methods of collaboration

In closing, Suba talked about the excitement and opportunity that collaborating with DMU affords to Curve, particularly in terms of the co-productions; these are large plays, political plays, provocative plays, plays that would ordinarily require a lot of co-production partnerships to bring to the stage. But across all the areas of collaboration there is a clear responsibility to define what the educational experience is for the participants. It was clear from the presentation that there is a need to reflect this responsibility in the methods of collaboration, and to reflect on those methods over time.

Tracy set out a number of questions which DMU and Curve use to review and develop their collaborative approaches; clearly, these questions could equally apply to other partnerships between HE and arts industry institutions:

  • How do we maintain a balance between the student experience and professional skill development?
  • How do we develop a repertoire in an educational context that also has commercial appeal?
  • What role do we play in encouraging and maintaining a student audience beyond Curve’s normal audience?
  • Does the project develop new (albeit transitory) audiences for Curve, and how can we capitalise on that transitory audience?

Collaborating speakers

Tracy Cruickshank, Associate Head of the School of Arts and Head of Drama at De Montfort University.

Suba Das, Associate Director at Curve Theatre

Nicola Daniels, DMU Graduate and independent performance artist

Contacts

Tracy: T.Cruickshank@dmu.ac.uk

Suba:   S.das@curvetheatre.co.uk

Nicola Daniels: nicky.daniels@hotmail.co.uk

 Web links                  

De Montfort University           www.dmu.ac.uk

The Curve Theatre                 www.curveonline.co.uk