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Devising Boundary-Pushing Theatre amidst COVID

The theatre world is facing unprecedented challenges, so how do we facilitate discussions with our students about the future of theatre and encourage them to recognise the unique opportunity they have to create original work?

Credit: Photo: Christian Michelides

A highlight of lockdown was being able to participate in webinars led by inspirational theatre practitioners. My favourite one was listening to the musings and reflections of Complicite’s Artistic Director in the form of a Q & A. The first questions posed to him was asked ‘why do we need theatre now’? McBurney cited a study by UCL in 2017, which found that watching a live theatre performance can synchronise your heartbeat with other people in the audience, regardless of whether you know them or not (1). It is indeed this intimate, visceral, physiological, and emotional experience which is unique to live theatre and the audience.

It is perhaps this core value of theatre, and it’s re-evaluation, which could be the crucial starting point for facilitating discussions with students amidst Covid. When we start to debate the form which theatre may take in the coming weeks, months and years, this will lead onto deeper discussions and decision-making around the type of theatre they wish to create as drama students and future theatre practitioners.

Our students are studying dramatic texts, forms and conventions, the history, the approaches, all created at a specific moment in time by practitioners and theatre makers, often during times of difficulty and destabilisation.

McBurney highlighted that, during such times, "theatre starts to live in new and potent ways".

Finding new ways to connect with an audience, through a screen, with smaller audiences, in smaller spaces, new spaces, in large spaces with small audience, fragmented audiences, actors distanced, audience distanced, site-specific work, site-responsive work…the list goes on. The students must explore how to find new ways to create something which is visceral and intimate under such conditions, with new rituals, conventions, born out of the current situation. Theatre-makers and artists thrive with imposed limits and restrictions. So rather than merely studying it, there’s no better time for students to truly grasp how theatre is inextricably linked to the social, cultural, historical and political context in which it is created, and there is no better time for students to re-evaluate and redefine it for themselves.

Here are a few links to innovative companies and approaches for A-Level and GCSE students, which are pushing the boundaries of theatre and performance in the current climate.

1. Darkfield Radio- . An audio-immersive experience for the audience. This is brilliant for students understanding how innovative sound techniques can be used to create a performance for an audience of one or two people. I highly recommend you set it as homework for GCSE and A-Level students to experience and evaluate. It is recommended for ages 14 and above and lasts for 20 minutes.

2. Emma Rice & Kneehigh are always ahead of the game. Kneehigh already 'have a plan' and their approach to creating and performing work amidst COVID is explained here:

Students can check out Emma Rice's new Digital Tour of Wise Children here:


If you liked this you might also like Four Successful Strategies for Teaching Immersive Theatre, when Punchdrunk and Immersive Theatre Producer Sarah Sansom shares her top tips for creating immersive or participatory work with students.



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