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Rethinking the future of performance

Postgraduates are asking the right questions at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.
Rethinking the future of performance March 2019: SL'oeufs Fowl Play, Kryptonite. Photo: Patrick Baldwin. Image supplied.

Brooke Boland

Wednesday 18 November, 2020

Students at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London, were recently mentored by radical feminist performance artist, Lucy McCormick. In answering their questions, McCormick was hit with the big one: what does the future of performance look like post-COVID?

It’s a question many of us have considered throughout the pandemic, but understandably it is at the forefront of performing arts students’ minds as they start or complete years of training.

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Dr Lynne Kendrick, Reader in Theatre and Performance and Course Leader of MA/MFA Advanced Theatre Practice at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, said this is a conversation she continues to have with her postgraduate students.

‘How can we imagine what that moment is going to be like? And what will the relationship be between what we imagine and what the post-pandemic university, post-pandemic training, might actually be? It’s quite exciting, in a way,’ she said.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

Just as students are grappling with the question of how they can develop work that extends beyond isolation orders to connect with audiences, the academics and experienced performers who are teaching them have questions of their own. Such queries are all the more important given the uncertain future we collectively face, especially when we consider arts’ role in social cohesion, connection, and provocation.

‘Theatre and performance across the globe is in crisis and we need to be able to train students to respond to that crisis in a way that enhances their practice, so that when theatres begin to open up again, when the industry gets back on its feet across the globe, students really know what they want to say when they exit a course,’ Dr Kendrick said.

In the Masters of Advanced Theatre Practice, students are challenged to enter this new post-Pandemic world.  

That doesn’t mean focusing on techniques from previous centuries, Dr Kendrick explained.

‘The work that we do is very much about the here and now. So, in all of our classes, we are constantly coming back to the question of how we can practice now and what matters to us.

‘It will open up again and students need to be really clear about what their role as artists is in repairing the world,’ she said.

TEACHING NEW THEATRE PRACTICES

Headphone theatre is one theatrical form that’s currently expanding into new and interesting areas and is given extra attention at present due to the rise of digital and online experiences.

It’s a specialisation Dr Kendrick is particularly passionate about in her own research. She is currently collaborating with multidisciplinary artist Ally Poole to create a student workshop that explores identity through sound.

With Poole currently based in Virginia Beach in the USA, and Dr Kendrick and her students in the UK, each will connect online to experiment with sound and voice, questioning how these technologies impact the performing body.

‘A voice travels, a sound stretches and connects,’ said Dr Kendrick. ‘We're exploring that as a real material means of reaching out and crossing huge distances, as well as looking at how do we perform that and what's the realities of training for that type of practice.’

The workshop is just one example of how curriculum at Central is responding to and creatively embracing change, helping postgraduate students prepare for the future.

The MA/MFA Advanced Theatre Practice is one of an extensive range of Masters courses available at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. International students are welcome to apply for 2021. All auditions and interviews will be conducted online and prospective students can apply through the website.

About the author

Brooke Boland is a freelance writer based on the South Coast of NSW. She has a PhD in literature from the University of NSW. You can find her on Instagram @southcoastwriter.