There is a vitality,a life force, a quickening
that is translated through you into action and,
because there is only one of you in all time,
this expression is unique.
And if you block it, it will never exist through
any other medium and be lost. The world will
not have it.
It is not your business to determine
how good it is;
nor, how valuable it is;
nor how it compares with other expressions.
It is your business to
keep it yours clearly and directly;
to keep the channel open.
You do not even have to believe in yourself or
your work. You have to keep open and aware
directly to the urges that motivate you.
Keep the channel open…
No artist is pleased…
there is no satisfaction whatever at any time.
there is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction: a
blessed unrest that keeps us marching and
makes us more alive than the others.
The Life and Work of Martha Graham (1991)
by Agnes De Mille
WHERE I’M COMING FROM
I am an actor. I trained at Guildhall School of Music & Drama on the BA Acting course (3 years), from 2010-2013. Since graduation I have worked mostly in theatre, but in TV, radio and voice over as well. The training at drama school gave me a wide variety of tools that I draw upon still – which naturally have developed over time and grown with new experiences. I found the most important lessons at drama school were not ones that were framed into a neat workshop, but were moments of real learning in the spaces in between. I found them in the spaces given within a class for an unexpected question to be asked, or where a student was given time to explore and get something ‘wrong’ – not for the second or third time, but for the eighth, ninth, tenth time.
I am a teacher. I direct on the Guildhall summer school, I give classes on the Guildhall Preliminary Acting Course, I teach on the Outreach Programme, I teach acting to opera students, I am on the panel for auditions. No teaching experience has been the same. Each has required different approaches and ways of thinking, and a willingness to go with what the room needs in that moment.
This project and its focus on creative entrepreneurship speaks to me both as an actor and teacher. Taking the example of a rehearsal room as a place for creative possibility: I believe every rehearsal room has the potential to behold something extraordinary. But this does not always happen. As Martha Graham writes in her letter to Agnes DeMille, I am interested in how we can ‘keep the channel [of expression] open’, for both teachers and students, and what might then occur…
SETTING THE TABLE
This Erasmus + Strategic Partnership Project centres around the collaboration of Ecoles des Ecoles members across Europe. From the beginning the pool of knowledge and experience has been rich and varied. The variety of disciplines and backgrounds from each project member has encouraged a curiosity and openness, crucial for this work.
But what IS a creative entrepreneur?
Though attempted at the beginning, it became clear this is hard to succinctly define and agree upon, and not a useful task. Over the course of the project, many different components have revealed themselves to make up the vast umbrella title of “creative entrepreneur”. Some themes were familiar, and linked strongly to ways of teaching and learning that are already embedded in a drama school training. Some themes were new. And some were so simple that it became apparent they are often overlooked or forgotten about…
On 21st March 2018, I conducted a podcast style interview with Marina Papageorgiou, Enterprise Co-Ordinator on the Guildhall Creative Entrepreneurs scheme. During the interview, she emphasised the importance of demystifying what it is to be an entrepreneur, to students and teachers. So, I have attempted break down the components of what it might mean, and what it could look like. Some of the ‘ingredients’ contradict themselves, which, when seen as a whole, I hope makes sense – this project has not led to neat and tidy work. We have grappled and tussled, but I believe all of the components that I have set out below, have equal importance and value.
COMPONENTS OF A CREATIVE ENTREPRENEUR
SETTING THE FORM
Right from the start of this project, it was made clear by conversations with those experienced in creative entrepreneurship as a way of teaching, that how you set the form as a facilitator is crucial. The ‘form’ can also be seen as the framework. Inger Eilersen, a teacher we met at the Danish National School of Performance Arts, spoke about ‘creating frames rather than content’, inspired by the beautiful example from Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky – who felt that teachers must be like scaffolding, allowing students to build within it. Inger’s exercise in Copenhagen asked small questions inspired from a set text, which then led to creative improvisations of the answers. With smaller exercises, we as ‘students’ were empowered to create more courageous work, within the set frame of creating a ‘live experiment’. A process was instantly put in motion, and the imagination and excitement in the room was palpable.
During the development of the course for San Miniato, I spoke to Eliot Shrimpton, Head of Academic Studies at Guildhall. He again emphasised the importance of creating a frame that is both specific and loose – allowing and provoking creativity and autonomy from students. This idea goes hand in hand with getting the ‘teacher’ out of the way as quickly as possible, and therefore breaking the boundaries of a traditional exercise in a classroom…
With this in mind, Grace Andrews (fellow actor and teacher from Guildhall) and I created an arc that would be a rough guide to our time in San Miniato. Giving the title “The Space” to the series of workshops enabled an open structure to explore with the students.
The word ‘laboratory’ as a way of describing the San Miniato workshops was coined during a group meeting in Hamburg, and I feel was essential as a simple framework and starting block for us as teachers/facilitators. It immediately made clear that the time in San Miniato was an opportunity to explore with students, to try out new ideas, and most importantly to feel able to make mistakes and fail.
In order to create a generous and supportive working environment that would encourage failure, it was clear that there must be a sensitivity to language. When a new group comes together, it is not only the walls of the room that creates a home, but also a collective language. I noticed how crucial it is to set up an exercise with language that invites curiosity and excitement – by posing a question, or sharing an idea. This then inevitably lends itself to the exercise becoming something that the students can own, and evolve, themselves.
I discovered that setting the form of any exercise will always be helped if there is an understanding of how we are to work as a group – ‘hengivelse’ is a beautiful Danish word we came across during our time in Copenhagen, that translates as a devotion to the work. What happened in the work space in San Miniato felt most exciting when everyone in the room was totally immersed and committed – ie. with a real sense of ‘hengivelse’. This commitment and devotion I think can be established early on, with a lightness that doesn’t take away from its importance.
BREAKING THE FORM – AN OPENESS TO THE UNKNOWN
I discovered that San Miniato encouraged, and even insisted, upon having an openness to the unknown. As a medieval town in the province of Pisa, it was all completely away from the environment of the drama schools we were familiar with. Exploring and discovering a new space together – as students and teachers – I feel promoted creativity, focus and imagination. Especially imagination, which was fuelled by the unknown and new environment.
The unknown can also come in the form of letting an exercise go beyond the parameters of a brilliant ‘plan’. Preparation I feel is essential – but equally as important is letting go. I discovered that once a structure has been offered, time must be given to the exploration of it, so that it has the permission to fly and shape shift and potentially end with something you could not have predicted. Of course this doesn’t always happen. An exercise may well ‘flop’ – but you can only discover this by putting yourself in the vulnerable position of giving an exercise time to develop. I found in San Miniato that even if you felt as a facilitator that an exercise had ‘flopped’, if you gave it time to breathe, it may well give it life again… and then again not. Giving time to an exercise also encourages a students’ voice to be heard, empowering them to offer and develop their own instincts.
Daring to go somewhere new as a teacher is not always – if ever – an easy thing. Charlotte Østergaard, a teacher from Copenhagen, said that in her work she ‘doesn’t want to find the complete answer or formula’. This resonated hugely with me – not only does it take away from the pressure, but it encourages playfulness and an appetite for exploration and a desire for the process, rather than any result.
I felt that doubt and uncertainty can be a hugely invigorating thing to have in a work space – and that you can, as a facilitator, feel settled in your unsettlement. By letting go of your expectations and plans, you also allow the potential to be truly surprised and excited by something. Which I think is something we seek not just as facilitators/teachers, but as human beings…
HIERARCHY AND SPEAKING UP
Something quite magical happened in San Miniato – which was that, over time, Grace and I experienced the roles of ‘teachers’ and ‘students’ beginning to shift and blur. As a place of creativity, the whole set up of it being a laboratory enabled a dynamic and new way of learning – for everyone. I felt that it wasn’t just one element that created this non-hierarchical dynamic, but a whole range of them. From being able to attend workshops as a teacher, and thereby stepping immediately into the shoes of ‘student’ - to eating together at lunch and dinner, and collaborating on creating a ‘timetable’ for the next day.
The idea of how we learn from one another was explored in Charlotte’s workshop in Copenhagen, and she spoke about ‘meeting on common ground’. I have had little experience of this before – essentially a facilitator taking part in their own exercise. I found in San Miniato there was such a blurred fluidity to the traditional roles of ‘student’ and ‘teacher’ that it felt essential to jump straight into the work and become a ‘student’. The work itself wasn’t always easy – but I sensed that by actually showing yourself grappling with work there enables more of an equality in the room, and in turn empowers students to also experiment and push their own limits. I found that it also encouraged more of a direct communication between myself and the people in the room. I realised in San Miniato that once there is a dialogue between students and teachers, the learning can become a two way thing. Students do not need to just ‘receive’, all the time. And by giving the space for them to offer and speak up, it leads to a culture of learning that is available for everyone.
Speaking up in potentially difficult situations was something I wanted to explore in San Miniato. I offered a workshop in ‘Creative Assertiveness’, looking at exploring what perceptions people had of assertiveness, and how to negotiate ways through challenging situations. Feeling empowered in a rehearsal room context to speak up when something doesn’t feel right, or simply being able to confidently express an idea, is something that I feel creates an artist’s sense of empowerment. I found it interesting to discover how, when assertiveness skills are simplified and broken down, they become tools that can almost be explored as a game. This playful structure lent itself to being a space within which to build up skills in assertiveness.
RISK AND FAILURE
Lidia Varbanova, author of ‘International Entrepreneurship in the Arts’, writes that ‘entrepreneurs are the ones who do not give up if they fail’. Failure I think has always been an interesting subject within a creative context. Because surely there is a scale of failure, the end of which we generally don’t want to fall off…
When creating the ‘arc’ of our San Miniato workshops, Grace and I wanted to give as many opportunities as possible to be daring and courageous. Working with such a range of students – including actors, writers, costume designers – meant that it was crucial we had an awareness and sensitivity to the needs of individuals within the group. Though the concept of creating a workshop for students from across a range of disciplines had felt daunting, I now believe it in fact generated an atmosphere of acceptance and encouragement.
During the time in San Miniato a splinter group of students – self named ‘The Rogue Group’ – was formed. It was unexpected, and sparked from their desire to further the work.
I attended a workshop of theirs which I found really interesting. The content was led by a student from Hamburg, who was interested in authenticity. Afterwards he said that for him the exercise had never developed in such a way before. It felt that whilst we as a group of researchers/teachers couldn’t have anticipated such a group forming, it was something that developed naturally from the nature of the risk-taking work and way of learning encouraged in San Miniato.
OWNERSHIP AND RESPONSIBILITY
For me, a handing over of learning felt like the biggest discovery in San Miniato. Once a responsibility and ownership of skills had been embraced and explored, the learning environment changed – and lifted into something we could not have predicted.
At the heart of the ‘students’ taking ownership, was the concept of the timetable. Set out at the beginning with the look of a traditional timetable, over the first week it began to morph into a much freer and open space. It developed into a ritual at the end of the day where the following day’s ‘offers’ were pitched, and those interested could sign up. It felt that there was real passion when people stood up and spoke about their ‘offers’ – as well as a vulnerability, stemming from the unknown of how many people would attend. I feel that if there is space within your learning to have responsibility and offer something in return, something is set alight within you. This was clear, as we saw the numbers of students offering workshops increase exponentially, until the corridor wall was covered in their brilliant offers…
Taking ownership in your learning process can often lead to a brilliant sense of empowerment. We were keen in San Miniato to enable a ‘lift off’ of some kind towards the end of the week. This for me was one of the most eye opening moments of my time there. With a frame that we explicitly said could be disregarded, in the last afternoon the space became the students’, and the students’ alone. They created, with such imagination and a sense of beauty, an ‘experience’ of a space for people to enter. The process was led entirely by them, and resulted in two magical pieces of art.
I would be interested to explore whether this ‘lift off’ could be introduced earlier into the process of learning, to establish a sense of empowerment from the beginning. We had been careful and focussed on creating a real sense of ensemble during the first few days, but it would be interesting to see if in fact a group of students could easily start exploring and creating much earlier. Autonomy and self efficacy run in our blood, and we only have to be given the space and encouragement, for them to come alive. This again reflects the idea of the ‘teacher’ being pulled away, and the boundaries of a classroom exercise broken. Jacques Lecoq’s pedagogy encapsulates the heart of this: ‘auto cours’. Or, ‘self-course’.
“The pedagogical power of the auto-cours resides in the way it refuses to prescribe collaborative styles, tools, or models but instead induces an urgent creative collision through which students are forced to envision and produce their own theatre. The pedagogical potential of this collision rides on the productivity of unfixed power dynamics. In this light, destabilizing power dynamics within the creative act becomes a pedagogical obligation.”
- Maiya Murphy & Jon Foley Sherman, Collective Creation in Contemporary Performance (2013) Lecoq’s Pedagogy
NURTURING AN INDIVIDUAL’S PASSION
I believe that before anyone can start shouting loudly, there has to be an awareness of what the passion is and where it is coming from. If it comes from a real and genuine place, the foundation can hold an entire structure of growing work and ideas. ‘What do you care about?’ or ‘What are you drawn to?’ are questions that I think could be given much more time within the education system – both higher education and early learning. This yearning sparked my idea to delve into the concept of ‘dreams’ with the students. I believe that an openness and interest in someone’s dreams and passions can only be a good thing, and may open the door to a whole array of possibilities.
How can you find your form of expression if we are all doing the same thing? And so we started from texts and images, brought in by the students, that set the them alight.
“I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul”
- A student shared the poem Invictus, by William Ernest Henley, from Book of Verses (1888)
The strength and passion of their voices, as they shared what they’d brought with them, was electrifying. I wonder if giving a student space to remember what they love, and what they want, gives them fuel not only for that present moment but for beyond too.
The Law of Jante, a code of conduct in Nordic countries, was brought up in the rehearsal space. It is the message that there should be a sense of shame to have any ambition or belief that you may be something special. This resonated with me and the very British value of extreme modesty. Whilst arrogance can push people away from you, I wonder if extreme humility can push down self worth and value. With this in mind, I developed an exercise that had to start with ‘I want’. Something we very rarely allow ourselves to explore, perhaps because of the fragility of our real hopes and dreams. For me, it was a moment of revelation to feel just how empowering it is to speak with strength and conviction in your own individual future.
Embracing individuality starts with an active curiosity from a teacher – a curiosity of what might already be there in the room. The idea of a student’s ‘resources’ that they bring into a space was coined by a student on the course who was wanting to be heard more. What makes up a learning culture was touched upon during a project meeting in Hamburg, when freelance lecturers spoke to us about ‘The Change Project’ at Hamburg Theaterakademie. A key component of their learning culture was the idea of potential – having an awareness of the abundance in a group, rather than feeling any lack of it. They also spoke about ‘unterniemung’ – a German phrase expressing the idea of planting a seed.
I feel that planting a seed is essential for a teacher to give a student. For me it goes hand in hand with nurturing a passion, or any potential. It can also be interpreted as purely giving a student space to express themselves and explore their own ideas. The ‘seed’ holds the potential of an idea or piece of art far greater than one could imagine.
BUILDING YOURSELF A NETWORK
Before building yourself a network, there has to be an openness and curiosity in the first place. How often do we assume we know or understand something? San Miniato provided a place and time to embrace going back to basics, being curious, and asking simple open questions.
Rikke Lund Heinsen, a teacher from Copenhagen, led a brilliant workshop on ‘Core Values’. She offered the idea of what would happen if we asked each other not the CV focused question ‘what do you do?’, but ‘what are your core values?’ The importance placed on building a network is justified I feel, as creative work is lifted when in collaboration with the right individuals. However, the openness required to hear and explore another’s core values, immediately made the interaction a very human one. It made me wonder what would happen if, when feeling the pressure to ‘network’, one felt able to ask open questions that provoked a conversation that was potentially complex and personal and fascinating.
Working across disciplines with such a huge variety of students immediately lifted the quality of the learning. For me, it felt like there was no room for laziness or a sense of falling back on what you already know – the interdisciplinary nature of the room demanded a consistent curiosity and questioning and exploring. Especially when devising exercises as a teacher, it required a rethinking of how to provide an equal foundation from which the students could work. It also offered consistent and unexpected surprises of what was being offered, and by whom. Though perhaps daunting at the beginning for some students, it eventually led to a room where those who had hid at the start, over time found strength in their voices and voices. This led to a vibrant network of students and teachers forming over the time in San Miniato.
The wealth of resources that an interdisciplinary group of students brings is immeasurable. In approach, values, humour, offerings… The nature of the group lifted the learning, and was a crucial part of the San Miniato laboratory. Many students are still in touch, and so the network continues to grow and develop.
I believe there can always be an expectation of a level of work. It of course must have a foundation of understanding and appreciation for the cross disciplines in the room. A costume designer is a different animal to an actor. Both have the same fire and potential, but it comes alight in different ways, as we found in San Miniato. Having a rigour and energy as a teacher to look further than what is front of you is essential. Looking beyond your own assumptions – and preconceived ideas of others – opens up opportunities for you and the students. There seems to be a delicate balance of giving something time and space to grow, but also a healthy impatience to want to shake things up, and question, and provoke.
A PRACTICAL TOOLKIT
From the variety of people we have met and explored ideas with during this project, there has often been an emphasis on how important practical tools are to encourage entrepreneurship in students. Here are some of them, broken down:
▪ During my podcast interview with Marina Papageourgiou, she spoke of the importance of making routes and options transparent during training – afterwards is too late.
▪ How and where to apply for funding, and what steps to take
▪ What resources are available within the school’s set up – being made explicit
▪ Giving students ‘small experiences’, rather than from ‘nothing to the ‘big idea’ ‘ – an idea from Helena Gaunt.
Helena also spoke about how once her students had been given the confidence and know how, the belief, and the network of support, they had been ‘empowered to think differently’, and one had described the process as having had ‘my whole brain rewired’. With the practical tools in place, the mindset that is at the heart of a creative entrepreneur can begin to flourish…
LAST BUT NOT LEAST: AN INTEGRAL MINDESET - THE HEART OF CREATIVE ENTREPRENEURSHIP
For me, whilst practical ways can and must be in place to lift a creative entrepreneur’s learning, there is nothing more important than an integral mindset. The shift of how we see ourselves and each other, and what we are capable of, starts with our mindset. This shift must, if at all possible, start with the teacher – for once this is in motion, the place of learning transforms for a student.
These two definitions below are ones I have been particularly struck by during this project:
▪ To dare – a vibrant and brilliant idea from Olivia Chateau, key member of this project, which embraces the importance of bravery from both students and teachers in entrepreneurial work
▪ Jacques Delors’ concept of ‘lifelong learning’ in the 1996 Delors Report on the four pillars of learning: Learning to know. Learning to do. Learning to be. Learning to live together.
BEYOND THE PROJECT
GUILDHALL SUNDAY PRACTICE
This project has been illuminating for me and my work and development as an artist. I think it is no coincidence that during the process of the project, I was provoked into action to create a new space at Guildhall – now named the Guildhall Sunday Practice.
Myself and two other actors from Guildhall were speaking about our desire to have a space where we could come together to both take part in, and lead, workshops. We were interested in creating an active alumni network, in a space that encouraged play and mistakes. The Guildhall Sunday Practice now runs monthly, and is supported by the school.
There are plans to introduce it within the training, and it is a project that is fuelled by both joy and a need to work in a non hierarchical, creative space.
POST TRAINING IDEAS
▪ Potential alumni support for one year (as they had on the Guildhall Creative Entrpreneurs programme), to keep in touch and stay feeling supported. It is an overwhelming and often lonely experience when you graduate, and left to fend for yourself. With a support system in place, I believe new graduates would feel more able to continue the brave and exciting work that the training encourages.
▪ A graduate company – not a new idea, but one that I feel is more important than ever now.
▪ A list of contacts who can be called upon to help develop alumni’s ideas. This was something that was brought up by Rachel Roberts, from the Conservatoire in Boston, during the ‘Artists as Citizens’ week in London, February 2018. Rachel spoke about how she helps her students obtain grants for their ideas during the training, and then continues the support after graduation.
DURING THE TRAINING
▪ Identifying and furthering what it is in the training that enables a student to feel empowered. Time must be given to develop this vital sense of autonomy. This was something we could have done more of in San Miniato – letting go of the abundance of preparation and plans, and giving space to what the students were being drawn towards.
▪ The importance of having a “direct creative debate… there is not enough” (Christian Burgess (Vice Principal and Director of Drama – 2018). This reflects the most exciting work that has been done during this project – when there is a clear channel of communication between teachers and students, enabling creativity to thrive and students to directly influence and shape the course of their learning.
▪ A further exploration and development of cross collaborative projects. A school with such a variety of disciplines is a hub of potential. I feel that any time put into further interdisciplinary work would be invaluable, and the benefits would grown beyond the structure of the training.
▪ I believe it is important to integrate the values of creative entrepreneurship, as opposed to treating them as an add on limb – as much as possible. Of course a traditional education model can be used, but I’m not sure the effect would be as great as a real embedding of it into the training. It would be a longer process – but that is what it is. A process. It may not always have an end product, but the process itself will provide far more riches than the end ‘result’. For both teachers, and students.
What took place in San Miniato was something that no one could have expected or planned for. I was shown what it is to truly leave behind your preparation, and step into the unknown. I was able to explore, with the spirit of both the teacher and actor within me. I believe it truly is the way of thinking that must be nourished and given space to. It is this way of thinking that can be implemented in any learning context. We see examples of teachers at primary schools being encouraged to give autonomy and space to their students’ voices: this is no different. There is a beauty to the simplicity. It doesn’t need to be overwhelming or complicated.
We can help, as teachers, to ‘keep the channel [of expression] open’. As Martha Graham also says in her letter to Agnes Demille, ‘if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it’. I believe that to not block it or shut it down, is as important as keeping it open. And it is the first essential step towards realising the potential of our students – the potential that it is bigger than our plans, or our expectations, or anything we could have imagined.