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MA Performance: our new courses in Theatre Making and Politics and Social Justice

One of the studios at Wimbledon
  • Written bySamin Shirazi-Kia
  • Published date 28 June 2022
One of the studios at Wimbledon

Katie Beswick recently joined Wimbledon as Programme Director for Acting and Performance. We recently spoke to her about her background and her interest in approaching performance by investigating the political and social aspects of theatre.

Here she tells us more about Wimbledon’s 2 new postgraduate courses: MA Performance: Theatre Making and MA Performance: Politics and Social Justice.

A person sits in an empty theatre and amongst red seats. She looks towards the stage which is out of frame.
In the theatre at Wimbledon
MA Performance: Politics and Social Justice, Wimbledon College of Arts, UAL | Photograph: Samin Shirazi-Kia

Wimbledon has just introduced 2 new postgraduate courses. How is your work, particularly your interest in social issues, reflected in the courses at Wimbledon?

What we're trying to do at Wimbledon is to embed a non-hierarchical, nurturing environment where people can find their own autonomous voice which is safe and caring. It is particularly set up to support the sorts of people that might feel disadvantaged by the norms of the conservatoire, and the more elite aspects of the commercial acting industry.

We're a space where people from non-traditional backgrounds can come and experiment, and become artists. Not just those people – anybody in fact – but I was really excited by that offer. It appealed to me to join the staff here because it sounded great, and is necessary because nothing really exists like that in the landscape of performer training. University drama courses are doing something quite different, which is about coming through the study of drama to practice. We are about starting with practice.

The MA Performance: Politics and Social Justice is embedded in contemporary political and social concerns, and will hopefully appeal to people who have either had an undergraduate degree in drama, or have an existing professional practice. They may also have some experience of art and performance making, and want to turn their attention to issues of politics.

 A classroom with a slanting light from the large windows illuminates stage props. The stage props are related to environmentalism and include a globe hanging from the ceiling and signs with various slogans such as “No War” and “Just Look Up”.
A studio at Wimbledon
MA Performance: Politics and Social Justice, Wimbledon College of Arts, UAL | Photograph: Samin Shirazi-Kia

They may want to engage in aesthetics activism, and are interested in particular social issues. Somebody might be interested in climate justice, for example, or want to think about how they want their practice to innovate and agitate, or someone might have a more general concern in party politics perhaps, and again they can explore ways and forms as artists.

The MA Performance: Theatre Making is not so focused around issues of political enquiry, but it gives students a space to explore their own practice to use ensemble and dividing modes of practice. We have lots of cutting-edge technology at Wimbledon, things like digitally enhanced studios, VR equipment, green screen, motion capture and more. Coming to Wimbledon will give them access to ways of exploring how technological materials can enhance their practice.

The MAs are new, and we have just employed a new course leader whose vision will shape what those MAs ultimately become. But I intend to continue the project that was started by the previous programme director, Adrian Kear - who designed and wrote the 2 new MAs - which is about offering a new mode of performer training, and a new mode of arts school performer training.

In my opinion there's loads of great work that happens in the conservatoires, and I know a lot of conservatoire teachers. I am sure that there are good practices that happen there, but it's not for everybody. The limitations of that mode of formal training have become really apparent in the last few years, and I think there is a space in the landscape now for there to be new models of training – new models of working with students – that are not based on these very rigid existing models.

3 Mannequin found in a studio at Wimbledon College of Arts
Mannequins in a classroom
MA Performance: Politics and Social Justice, Wimbledon College of Arts, UAL | Photograph: Samin Shirazi-Kia

London has a great tradition of non-traditional forms of drama and theatre and street performance. How will London itself play a part in the programme, and what do you see as the benefit to studying in London?

I think particularly at postgraduate level what students are hopefully going to want to be doing is thinking about becoming professional artists. London is a cultural hub, and there are a huge number of opportunities - the staff here are extremely tapped into those local resources. We have staff on the acting performance programmes who are working artists, directors, who work with the theatres, and have worked anywhere from fringe theatre to the West End. We have experimental theatre makers, and theatre makers who have worked in the professional West End theatre, the whole spectrum.

We also have large networks and we bring in working artists to work alongside our students. There are opportunities for students to meet and network with a huge number of London-based artists and organisations. To have all that on your doorstep, and to be part of a programme that can introduce you to the London arts scene is very exciting.

London is the acting hub, and political and social hub, of England. You could go to a different performance every single night of the week - a lot of them cheap. And then there are the museums and art galleries, an endless supply of inspiration.

Another great thing about London is its international nature. When you come to somewhere like London it's not just about building networks locally. There's also the opportunity to think more globally – partly because London has such a diverse range of international residents and also as UAL has a huge number of international post-grads, so you're studying along students who have had diverse experiences and have another outlook on art practice, outlook on performance, outlook on life.

A sewing machine and a fan found in a studio at Wimbledon College of Ar
Sewing machines at Wimbledon
MA Performance: Politics and Social Justice, Wimbledon College of Arts, UAL | Photograph: Samin Shirazi-Kia

We have various international collaborations that can benefit students to give them access to a wider network that is global and beyond London. I think that that exists in part because of the profile of UAL and the kind of students it tracks, but it is also partly because of the nature of London as a city.

It is a very transient place; people come to London to visit, to work and to live. One of the reasons I like to be in London is that it's not just about diversity in a tick-box way, like having a panel of people who have different identity characteristics, but it's about diversity of thought, and diversity of experience. Here you are meeting people that are from all sorts of cultural backgrounds, who all have different sorts of political ideologies, religious beliefs, embodied experiences. That, as an artist, is valuable and enriching, particularly at the stage of your career when you're finding your voice and working out how you want to develop.

What new perspectives will the students gain from the course, and how can they apply it to whatever they go onto in their career?

We don't aim to be graduating a particular kind of student, where there are signs this student studied at Wimbledon because they move in a certain way, or they have a particular set of political and ideological beliefs. The question is 'who is the person that arrives?' and the course is designed to respond to the interests of students.

The good thing about an art school is there is scope for the curriculum to change in relation to what the students are interested in. For instance, if we have a cohort 1 year where the students are interested in climate justice, then the curriculum may lean towards issues around climate justice. The courses can respond to the issues as the units are written to shape your mode of critical enquiry. They will shape yourself as a practitioner.

What we're interested in is not so much shaping students to think in a certain way, but giving students the opportunity to experiment and shape their own perspective. Students won't come here and all leave with the same perspective on something. I think it's much more about them having the space to solidify how they think about and relate to the world, and how their performance practice is unique, and responds uniquely to their experience of the world.

Art is the mediation between the inside of you and the outside of the world, and the conduit between you and other people in some way or another. At Wimbledon, you'll have the space to shape that thinking and perspectives, and engage in modes of critical enquiry that'll give a greater sense of how you want to position yourself in relation to the world.