Mock, R. and Way, R. (2005), ‘Pedagogies of Theatre (Arts) and Performance (Studies)’, Studies in Theatre and Performance 25: 3, pp. 201–213

[Very difficult to make much of this article, which is mostly about defending the emotional intensity and cultural significance of theatre arts and performance studies.  There is actually very little on pedagogy.  What there is seems to suggest that students on this course simply have to try and ‘absorb’ their views and experiences of the staff.  We hear quite a bit about the views and experiences, and their battles inside Plymouth University to retain some sort of agreeably autonomous location within wider faculties of arts.  Much of this seems to me to be special pleading about the superb intensity of theatre studies, and a denial that it can be easily classified, which is rendered as some eternal struggle between binaries, like performance and the arts, or theory and practice, which it seems that staff are dedicated to somehow overcoming (largely in thought, or by putting similar words next to paper).

These contradictory views, and the different traditions the staff all represent, are meant to be a set of challenging resources for students.  Students have to somehow turn these views and challenges into performances, to embody them.  The staff then claim to be able to have the expertise to read these performances in such a way as to be able to decide if there is been inadequate response to the challenge, or a sufficiently complex understanding of the phony nature of binaries or stereotypes.  At no stage do the staff question their own abilities or importance, citing from time to time their own internal discussion papers, experiences, thoughts and lectures.  They seem to believe that assessment is simply a matter of setting suitably challenging assignments.  Just as they themselves somehow bear in their own persons the history of the great struggles surrounding the arts and what they do, so their own personal qualities are sure of the objectivity of the assessment.  Certainly, no problems are discussed.

Running through this lofty discussion is a set of proposals that actually look quite useful and interesting, if a bit mundane.  For example, there curriculum seems to be stratified so that they offer pretty basic theories about performance in year one, a discussion of the work of unusual pioneering or innovative performers in year two, and some kind of commitment to attack and reduce stereotypes in year three.  One set of stereotypes that have to be attacked are media stereotypes.  Although the students seem to have a booklist and some tutorials, it does seem to be asking rather a lot to first of all be able to analyse media stereotypes and then think of ways to subvert than in performance.  My guess is that they actually analysed stereotypes of media stereotypes!  That he notes that the performances were disappointing at times, and, despite being warned, the students seem to reproduce the very stereotypes they were subverting, which is not at all surprising, unless they had done some serious work on identity outside of the ways in which this is conceived in the theatre.

The team have a pseudo specific list of qualities they are supposed to be assessing, and no doubt these are given to students beforehand:

What we are assessing:

• The complexity of the critique of identified stereotypes of cultural otherness

• A considered relationship with the audience

• The shaping of structural patterning

• The maintenance of a performance environment

• The strength of performing presence and focus

• The choice of performance techniques appropriate to the subject matter.

The students were also offered a reading list (we assume that it goes without saying that the tutors team taught several sessions introducing Gomez-Peña’s work and the issues it raises, as well as offering tutorial support); furthermore, the students were encouraged to make connections with other ideas and practices they had encountered to date on this and other modules (some would additionally have been taking options in ‘Latin American Theatre’ and/or ‘The Semiotics of Text and Performance’) (208).


I call this pseudo specific for obvious reasons—who is to judge complexity, what exactly is are considered relationship, what is the third • mean at all, and how do we assess strength and choice?  I strongly suspect them of the students really do is to work out that they have to please their tutors, probably by researching them reasonably thoroughly.


It is worth noticing the in the third year, students could undertake a project instead of a dissertation, and here they had to demonstrate that they were reflective practitioners.  No references seem to have been drawn from the conventional literature on reflective practice, however, and it seems to been assumed that centred drama and performance is a reflective subject, reflexivity can be red from performance in the familiar way.


The illustrative photographs in fact seem pretty banal—mind you they are a poor representation of a performance as we know:


Figure 2: University of Plymouth Year 2 ‘Gomez-Peña Project’: German Women performed by Julia Harris
and Kat May at the Exeter Phoenix Arts Centre (2001).


There are the occasional rather amusing hints  of how the team find life in a modern university.  Despite the elegant disquisition in a position paper on the importance of the theatre, arguing for a merger with Fine Arts (p.204) :

The organisation seems to have left them where they were in a particular Faculty after all.  Students don't seem to have been terribly gripped by the assignments, and the team had to apologise and explain that maybe they didn't have enough practical skills by the time they did the assignment.  There is some anxiety about 'competitiveness', which might mean students choosing one particular module over another—these libertarians decided to respond by making an assignment draw upon both.


Meanwhile, cop this as illustrative:


The impact this had on all of us was extraordinary; although we had each seen photographs of, and had read at least something about, Gomez- Peña’s performance work (mainly because our colleague, Cariad Astles, had been offering an option in Latin American performance for some time), we simply weren’t prepared for the provocativeness, the risk-taking, the sexiness, the powerful presence, the contradictions and the challenges that were both presented to us and in which we were implicated. In a neighbourhood bar following the performance, we practically swooned together with emotional and intellectual giddiness; here was a performance which achieved a deep resonance for us as audience members (207)



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