Dr Esther Armstrong is the Programme Director for Performance Design and Technologies at Wimbledon College of Arts. She joined the college as an Associate Lecturer 13 years ago and has since worked with hundreds of students as they have developed their creative visions and skills in preparation to join the performance industry.
Her background as an English Literature and Languages graduate from the University of Oxford and a Graduate in Technical Arts from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. This means that throughout her career she has worked at the intersections between disciplines that engage the performing arts - the same principal of crossover and integration that underpins the organisation and delivery of courses at Wimbledon.
We spoke to her about the new BA Creative Technical Theatre course launching at the college from next year, and what she thinks makes Wimbledon an exciting, unique place to study performance design.
To start with, could you please give us an introduction to the Performance Design and Technologies programme at Wimbledon? What makes is unique?
At Wimbledon our Performance and Performance Design programmes are very integrated. We have developed programmes that cooperate with one another and encourage collaboration.
The Performance Design and Technologies programme encompasses all of our courses that look at the physical manifestations of design which shape performances and the way they are delivered. We think that having an art school ethos here at our college means that students experiment with their discipline and really learn how to test it, to challenge boundaries and examine what it really means to be a performer or designer.
Our students are incredibly experimental, hardworking and free-thinking in their design ideas. The staff are also fantastic practitioners and work in the industry as well as being committed teachers. This whole atmosphere of fun, creativity and commitment gives our students a space in which to think about performance practice and design, whether that is costume-making, the making of props, models - you name it!
Trailer for A Monster Calls which ran at the Bristol Old Vic and London Old Vic in 2018. Video designer Dick Straker, who will teach on BA Creative Technical Theatre, created content and designed the video and projection for the production. The set was designed by Michael Vale, Course Leader, MA Theatre Design at Wimbledon.
Can you please tell us about the new BA Creative Technical Theatre course that is launching next year?
BA Creative Technical Theatre is an exciting course where the students will be encouraged to think of themselves as creative designers. They will engage in technical realisation for performance, live events and also screen-based events. As well as being competent and confident technicians, they will look at the creative aspects of the really interesting and fundamental ways that a performance comes together. From lighting and sound engineering to video projection and projection mapping, they will explore and become skilled in the techniques that make a creative event come alive – that is the heart of what BA Creative Technical Theatre is all about.
We will encourage our students to become co-creators, innovators and practitioners and to think expansively about what their role might be during their studies, but also within the future of the industry itself.
The industry is changing so rapidly, and our aim is for this course to prepare students as practitioners who will be highly skilled and inspired to approach new ways of building theatre, live entertainment, performance events and screen-based productions.
The kinds of students that are attracted to BA Creative Technical Theatre won’t just be art graduates. They may have an interest in music or come from a mathematical or engineering background and want to think about how they might apply their wide variety of skills to a more creative space. It will be very different from learning in a conservatoire where you might be someone who is simply taught to be a very good technician.
The breadth of experiences of people on the course and the ways in which they will collaborate with one another and share knowledge will really enhance future careers, because the industry needs people who are excited, and can think on their feet and think differently.
Can you talk about collaboration between the courses within your programme?
Collaboration is fundamental to how we teach. We make sure we start collaborating on the performance design and technologies programme right at the beginning of every course, so our first introductory unit is not just an introduction to the school and how to study at university but how to work with your peers, how to get on with one another and also find out what other people do. For us, this is what makes Wimbledon a really exciting place to be creative, to study and to learn.
All of our performance design courses also include a unit in the second year where we focus solely on collective and collaborative practices which means students get the opportunity to work with students on other courses or with performers or with external organisations.
So, costume designers may work with people in screen-based design or performers in order to produce work which draws people together and offers them the opportunity to start to work meaningfully with their future peers. The aim of the project is to bring together shared knowledge and create something really exciting, as well as prepare them for the professional collaborations that will make performance-making such an exciting industry to work in when they graduate.
Scottish Opera’s production of Mark Anthony Turnage and Steven Berkoff’s opera Greek which was stage at the Edinburgh Festival, Festival Theatre, 2017 and the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, 2018. Video and projection design by Dick Straker.
Can you tell us more about the graduate destinations of students from your programme – what industries do they go on to work in?
Graduates from the Performance, Design and Technologies programme here at Wimbledon College of Arts go on to a really exciting range of careers. We have everything from people working within costume and wardrobe in theatre and film, all the way through to model making, set building and even designing and engineering sets for live theatre and performance as well as screen-based careers such as working with animatronics, animation and designing and building sets for TV.
We like to think that the kinds of skills and experience our graduates develop here at Wimbledon really prepares them for the working world and they can go into the industry and make an exciting and active contribution, finding their own path and making decisions about where they want to be in their future careers.
In thinking about future career and where students want to study, if they want to be in a place where there is a really exciting way of looking at learning new skills but also thinking laterally, creatively and experimentally in terms of design and working with technology to produce performance then Wimbledon really is the place for them. Those are the key elements that we really believe in and that will give students the skills to move into whatever career you want to.
Find out more about BA Creative Technical Theatre on the course page