Saturday, 5 February 2011

Performance Education

Earlier this week I was lucky enough to be at a Valedictory Lecture at Leeds Met University by Professor Noel Witts.  Noel has been instrumental in setting up the Performing Arts provision, which is led by Teresa Brayshaw, at Leeds Met - but that's only the most recent in a very long list of achievements. To explain Professor Witt's importance to the world of contemporary performance education would take a much longer blogpost - or in fact, a book.

I first met Noel when we were both on the selection panel for the New Works Festival in Leicester in the late 1990s. What impressed me then, and still does, is that despite (or, in fact, because of) his extensive experience, what he's most interested in is what you think - what you've seen recently, what you thought of it, what you're making, why you're making it. It was entirely typical that in his own Valedictory Lecture, he gave about half of his floor time over to showcasing performance by his colleagues and students at Leeds Met - from first year undergraduate to Principal Lecturer.

I am lucky enough to benefit from Noel's experience at both Third Angel, where he is on our Board, and at Leeds Met where I am an Associate (very part time) Senior Lecturer. Noel's lecture was in part a riposte to Simon Jenkins' attack on Universities in The Guardian last year, and in preparation for the lecture he asked some of us to share a few thoughts on the importance of Performing Arts being present in Higher Education.

I was flattered that he included my brief response (alongside that of Oliver Bray and Teresa Brayshaw) verbatim. And as this week I also started making a new piece with second year Art Event Performance students at Leeds Met, it feels appropriate to post them here.
It's important that the performing arts are in Higher Education, the way we deliver them [at Leeds Met] anyway, because the provision is better than being professional. At least better than starting out on your own. In a three year BA degree you get to make, what, 18 shows/projects, with over 30 different collaborators, and taught/directed/led/mentored by 10, 12 different practitioners and artists.

You wouldn't get that environment if you just became a self employed artist 'straight from school'. In fact, you wouldn't get such an environment until much later in your career, if you were lucky. So the environment we provide is actually better than the profession in some ways - better than vocational.

And an educational institution, particularly a University, should reflect the society it is part of, and, surely, try to be better than it. And where does a society do much of its thinking, discussing, dreaming? How does it try to understand itself? Through its culture. So a University should be home to those voices.
There is, of course, a much bigger discussion to be had about this, but for now, I just wanted to mark Noel's Valedictory lecture - and say: Thank you, Professor.

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