Theatre Passport

Lea Anderson’s all male contemporary dance company The Featherstonehaughs.

Lea Anderson’s all male contemporary dance company The Featherstonehaughs.

16 November 2011

Theatre students at Aberystwyth University are part of an innovative project designed to help apply aspects of their academic study directly to professional productions from leading UK and international companies. 340 students are involved in the Theatre Passport scheme, which incorporates ten professional productions over the 2011/12 academic year and is a partnership between the University’s Arts Centre and its Department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies.

Award winning Aberystwyth Arts Centre is a major resource for the region attracting over 750,000 visitors a year to its extensive facilities and programme of performances and events. Its comprehensive community arts programme is the largest in Wales.  The Department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies provides high-quality learning, teaching and research opportunities for students drawn from the populations of Wales, the United Kingdom, Europe and beyond. As one of the largest and most significant Departments of its kind, it continually seeks to engage with external partners to ensure the continued relevance and applicability of its practices within cultural and creative industries and the broader social context.

Arts Centre Director Alan Hewson said: “The impetus for the Passport Scheme came from a shared desire from the Arts Centre and our colleagues in the Department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies to encourage students to maximise the opportunity to experience and be inspired by top quality professional productions whilst studying in Aberystwyth.  We were also keen to ensure that the work was open to the general public, so that students got the full impact of the shared experience of seeing live work of the highest calibre.  From our perspective it has been a very positive scheme and one we’re keen to develop.”

In conjunction with seeing the productions in a live environment, linked to a series of talks from the performers and directors, the academic programme uses the works seen as a basis for formal study through seminars, lectures and written submissions.

Andrew Filmer, Lecturer in Theatre, Drama and Performance in the Department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies said: “The introduction of the Passport Scheme has been of great benefit to staff and students in the department, allowing us to place the experience of attending live theatre and performance at the heart of the curriculum. Students benefit from exposure to a range of theatre and performance styles during their studies and are able to develop their analytical skills through discussions with their peers and tutors in class and through longer written responses to the productions they see. It’s been no surprise to find that student feedback about the Passport has been overwhelmingly positive.”

The programme for the year is carefully chosen to offer a balance of dance and theatre work of different styles and scales, from one man experimental performances to full-scale classic plays and well-respected UK mid-scale dance companies. The programme offers students the opportunity to challenge and analyse, with their university tutors, notions of what theatre is and can be.  The fact that the performances take place in a professional theatre setting, with members of the public in the theatre as well as students, also offers the opportunity to reflect on the theatre event and audience reception. Alongside the performances the Arts Centre organises a series of talks and workshops and downloadable resources. There are also occasional symposia organised in partnership with the two Departments.

During the first year of the project in 2010/11 1st and 2nd year theatre students attended ten productions covering a wide range of styles and techniques of performance. Work is chosen in partnership by the Arts Centre and the Department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies to provide a range that is both well matched to the academic syllabus but also attractive to the general public. They ranged from staging of Shakespearian classics with Pilot Theatre’s  ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and Northern Broadside’s ‘Hamlet’, to Ligna Theatre’s ‘The New Man’ which was a performance without actors or stage, all delivered via audio device to propose gestures and movements.  Other performers included Augusto Corrieri, Cupola Bobber from Chicago, and Aberystwyth Arts Centre’s own touring production of ‘Wuthering Heights’ which was adapted for the stage by Lucy Gough, a Teaching Fellow in the Department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies.

The 2011/12 programme sees includes the first landmark collaboration between celebrated artist William Kentridge and internationally renowned Handspring Puppet Theatre with ‘Woyzeck on the Highveld’, Forced Entertainment’s new production ‘Void Story’, the final tour from Lea Anderson’s all male contemporary dance company The Featherstonehaughs, and Israeli born Hofesh Shechter’s dance company.  

It is hoped that the Theatre Passport scheme will act as a model for development into projects with other departments within the University. Already 2011/12 sees the introduction of a ‘Cult Film Club’ which is a series of 12 films screened in the Arts Centre’s cinema, each preceded by a talk from Film Lecturers who are specialists in that field. As with the Theatre model, the films have been chosen in discussion with both study and general interest in mind to reach as wide an audience as possible.