Academic journal article Liminalities

Improvising a Future in the Performing Arts: The Benefits of Reframing Performing Arts Entrepreneurship Education in Familiar Terms

Academic journal article Liminalities

Improvising a Future in the Performing Arts: The Benefits of Reframing Performing Arts Entrepreneurship Education in Familiar Terms

Article excerpt

Introduction

Improvisation is a central concept in any drama, theatre and performance studies degree. Whether our degree program trains would-be performers, directors, dramaturgs, devisors, playwrights, producers, drama teachers or a combination of all of these, improvisation always comes up in the practices we teach and the methods by which we teach them. It is something we expect our graduates to be able to do. Though definitions vary, improvisation is most often described as a process of "making it up as you go along"1, though, ironically, this ability to be creative is premised on highly repetitive exercises, processes and protocols that enable students to develop the skills to be creative in their response to new scenarios or situation. In theatrical contexts, then, making it up as you go along does not necessarily mean anything goes. Making it up as you go along more typically means applying rules, routines or response possibilities/processes practiced over time to a new scenario, a new set of hurdles, in a spontaneous and creative way way. It combines convergent and divergent thinking, repetitive and creative processes, openness and play with clear, goal-directed action. This is a valuable skill. It helps us negotiate a landscape, learn, and come up with new ideas. It helps us manage our own actions. It helps us manipulate our interactions with others. All of which is highly advantageous in adapting as a given story, scenario or situation plays out, whether in dramatic performance, or in day-to-day performance in social contexts. Improvisation has, as a result, long been recognised as useful in teaching children to cope with their world, in community work, and in therapy, as well as in coming up with characters, scenes, stories and insight in an actor training or theatrical context2.

With all this to offer, improvisation perhaps ought to be listed amongst the core graduate capabilities of any drama, theatre and performance studies degree. After all, as Tom Vanderwell3 notes in his argument about the use value of theatre training, a theatre graduate competent and confident with improvising can work well within a changing, unpredictable and uncertain world. They can maintain their cool as plots change, people falter, and props malfunction, fail or breakdown. They can do what they way even with scare resources, support or visible recognition of their efforts. They can deal with it when something takes them by surprise. "Theatre [training]," Vanderwell says, "taught me to focus, think quickly and make do while giving the impression that you've got it all under control"4. It is therefore, he says, something that has served himself and his fellow graduates well not just on stage but on the stage of daily life as changing policy, industrial and production practices wreak havoc with the best laid plans, aspirations and ambitions for their working futures. Improvisation is, in effect, precisely the sort of skill a drama, theatre and performance studies graduate needs to be able to manage the "portfolio career," in which they move between roles, organisations and opportunities often on a freelance basis, that career theorists recognise to be their destiny5. Indeed, though it is not a concept developed in career literature to date - or, as a result, as skill advocated - improvisation does increasingly appear in descriptions of the skills all today's workers need to be able to apply to work in an uncertain, changing environment in which traditional career scripts no longer apply6.

Intriguingly, though, skills in improvisation, play and playful selfperformance are never cited as critical graduate capabilities, no matter how valuable these might be in a Higher Education environment that increasingly emphasises employability, careers, and career management7. In the Australian Learning and Teaching Council's recently released Learning and Teaching Standards for the Creative and Performing Arts, for example, there is acknowledgement that graduates need to know the practices, techniques and technologies associated with their artform, know how to create artworks, know how to do this in collaboration with others, know how to communicate with spectators, audiences and other stakeholders, and know how to deal with the social, cultural, economic or ethical issues that arise in their industry8. …

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