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Improvising a future in the performing arts : a new strategy to help performance studies students successfully shift between academic culture, professional culture, industry and career?

By Bree J. Hadley


If there is one thing performance studies graduates should be good at, it is improvising – play and improvisation are central to the contemporary and cultural performance practices we teach and the methods by which we teach them. Objective, offer, acceptance, advancing, reversing, character, status, manipulation, impression management, relationship management – whether we know them from Keith Johnson’s theatre theories or Erving Goffman’s theatre theories, the processes by which we play out a story, scenario or social situation to our own benefit are familiar. We understand that identity, action, interaction and its personal, aesthetic, professional or political outcomes are unpredictable, and that we need to adapt to changeable and uncertain circumstances to achieve our aims. Intriguingly, though, in a Higher Education environment that increasingly emphasises employability, skills in play, improvisation and self-performance are never cited as critical graduate attributes. Is the ability to play, improve and produce spontaneous new self-performances learned in the academy worth articulating into an ability to play, improvise and product spontaneous new self-performances after graduates leave the academy and move into the role of a performing arts professional in industry? A study of the career paths of our performance studies graduates over the past decade suggests that addressing the challenges they face in moving between academic culture, professional culture, industry and career in terms of improvisation and play principles may be very productive. In articles on performing arts careers, graduates are typically advised to find a market for their work, and develop career self-management, management and marketing skills, together with an ability to find, make and maintain relationships and opportunities for themselves. Transitioning to career is cast as a challenging process, requiring these skills, because performing arts careers do not offer the security, status and stability of other careers. Our data confirms this. In our study, though, we found that strategies commonly used to build the resilience, self-reliance and persistence graduates require – talking about portfolio careers, parallel careers, and portable, transferable or translatable skills, for example – can engender panic as easily as they engender confidence. In this paper, I consider what happens when we re-articulate some of the skills scholars and industry stakeholders argue are critical in allowing graduates to shift successfully from academy to industry in terms of skills like improvisation, play and self-performance that are already familiar, meaningful and much-practiced amongst performance studies graduates

Topics: 190404 Drama Theatre and Performance Studies
Year: 2012
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