Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

An Adaptable Aesthetic: Performing the Happy Accident and the Everyday in Tertiary Performance-Making

Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

An Adaptable Aesthetic: Performing the Happy Accident and the Everyday in Tertiary Performance-Making

Article excerpt

The Theatre and Drama Program at La Trobe University teaches within three main degrees: the Bachelor of Arts, the Bachelor of Creative Arts and the Bachelor of Arts and Education. Students majoring in our discipline/s - of Theatre, Drama and Performance - take a range of both academic and practical subjects. Within this overall shape, the practical subjects are arranged in two strands; one focuses on text-based productions of canonical plays and contemporary Australian work, while the other is concerned with contemporary performance-making. This mix is useful to our students as, while some go on to work in the profession, many others take up teaching where die skills they learn in Play Production and PerformanceMaking are put to immediate use. The contemporary performance strand, which is the focus of this article, is composed of two consecutive subjects: a second-year subject that culminates in a public performance of a piece created by students in collaboration with the lecturer and guest artists and a third-year subject in which students, working solo or in small groups, propose a performance project and complete it with minimal intervention and maximal support from their lecturer acting as mentor and facilitator. This article describes and reflects on the evolution of these subjects and of the particular performance pedagogy they embody. While it is written from the perspective of the lecturer devising and developing the subject, and is mainly concerned with what happens in the studio or in performance, it should also reflect some of the ways in which the work may be of use to the studentparticipants in their future practice or pedagogy.

Teaching Performance-Making at La Trobe grew out of a 1993 pilot project designed as an interdisciplinary unit with composer-performer Graeme Leak, who was teaching at the time in the now-disappeared Music School. That early and continuing connection with contemporary music composition is one reason why the unit has been pitched more or less entirely in terms of formal experimentation. From the outset, the vocabulary of techniques and terminology was drawn from those of contemporary dance, movement, music and visual art rather than from the dramatic canon or from conventional actor training. Indeed, my own background - in contemporary visual arts and tiirough an apprenticeship with The Mill Community Theatre that included two years of weekly company classes in movement with dancer-choreographer, Nanette Hassall - has made me more than usually comfortable with a purely formal approach to Performance-Making and a belief that, if the shape is strong enough, it will reveal the content. It has also left me with a modernist aesthetic in terms of relishing the visibility of the mechanism and valuing the ordinary and the everyday over the virtuosic or 'dramatic' in the expression of human behaviour, effort, aspiration, emotion or desire.

In the decade-and-a-half since that pilot project, the field of Performance pedagogy has expanded rapidly. Recent publications have revealed a steady increase in disciplinary overlap, as can be seen in, for example, Routledge's Making a Performance1 - particularly useful in that it sets Australian companies like Legs on the Wall in an international context - or the special issue on Performance pedagogy (2006) produced by this journal's British equivalent, Studies in Theatre and Performance.2 Publications from companies like Forced Entertainment, DV8, the Wooster Group, Born in a Taxi and Goat Island have further expanded the field. Indeed at La Trobe, where an increasingly straitened casual teaching budget no longer allows us to easily introduce artists-in-residence on a regular basis - as in the work discussed below - I have turned recently to a system in which students research the work of contemporary performance companies and produce pieces 'in me style of . ..', along the way to producing their own work - as a substitute for the live contact with artists, as in previous years. …

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