This thesis explores collaborative partnerships between UK Higher Education Institutions and Regional Theatres in delivering undergraduate theatre education. Cultural partnerships between universities and the creative industries have become an increasingly prominent aspect of undergraduate arts education but academic studies into such partnerships have widely overlooked the discipline of theatre. I argue that established models of interaction between universities and the theatre industry are largely driven by employability focussed agendas which highlight a number tensions between the academy and the profession in relation to the art form. These include debates around theatre as craft or culture, the professionalisation of Higher Education and the exclusivity of theatre as a discipline and industry. This thesis explores how collaborations between universities and regional theatres can address such tensions and align their activities through critical engagement with each other’s processes.
I focus specifically on the case study of the University of Derby and Derby Theatre’s ‘Learning Theatre’ partnership to investigate how the concept of a Learning Theatre provides a model for aligning community, educational and artistic agendas. The thesis expands on scholarship into theatre education through its investigations into the unique Learning Theatre concept. It also contributes a new methodological approach which combines dramaturgical modes of analysis and presentation (Gergen & Gergen, 2012; Goffman, 1959) with Bourdieu’s concept of field (1993) and theories of place and space drawn from cultural geography (Cresswell, 2004; Lefebvre, 1993).
I consider the Learning Theatre partnership as a performance, investigating how the staging, the roles played and the interactions between the individuals influences the perceived value of certain knowledge, processes and pedagogic and professional relationships. The form of the thesis reflects this methodological approach, combining analytic and performative writing styles. For example, observational field notes become stage directions or set description, research participants are presented as dramatis personae and the interactions taking place are written as a performance script in conjunction with analytical commentary.
The thesis illustrates how the intersection of the fields of employment and education within this performance destabilises and challenges the hierarchies and relationships between students, academics and professionals. It positions this against the backdrop of the current challenging political and economic environment for HE and theatre. I propose the Learning Theatre as a contested and complex model of engagement which presents a transformational performance space. It provokes a reconsideration of the disciplinary roles, spaces and practices in theatre and theatre education in order to embrace the principles of inclusion, conversation and collaboration.