My primary objective as an educator here at UBC Okanagan has been to establish the BFA degree in Interdisciplinary Performance. I have helped design and later refine this program and shepherded it through the department, faculty, and senate curriculum committees. I later helped to establish a Minor in Performance by the same process. I have shared the position of program coordinator or have been sole program coordinator for the Interdisciplinary Performance program from 2007-2013.
The new Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Interdisciplinary Performance, housed in the Department of Creative Studies within the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies, offers a unique combination of studio and lecture courses in Performance, Creative Writing, and Visual Arts. The curriculum is designed to work across the conventional boundaries that still separate the arts in most university and conservatory programs. The INTP BFA provides an educational context within which students gain a broader vision and experience of contemporary artistic practices and develop a critical awareness of the creative processes that are vital to world cultures and traditions. Designed to prepare students to work as independent creative artists in the increasingly interdisciplinary and intercultural performance world, the INTP BFA also opens up career options in areas such as applied arts, scholarly research, education and health, digital arts, curating, and cultural outreach.
The Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Interdisciplinary Performance program received Ministry approval and officially started in the fall of 2009. The Performance Minor was established in 2010, the same year auditions were added to the program’s application requirements. UBC’s Okanagan campus saw the first graduating class of the BFA INTP majors and two INTP minors in the spring of 2013. In addition to the BFA degree, the (interdisciplinary Graduate Studies (IGS) MFA in Performance has been offered by the INTP Program since 2008, and we are now transitioning to an MFA in Interdisciplinary Studies which will be independent from IGS.
During their four years of coursework, INTP BFA students engage in ensemble work, create individual and collaborative projects, explore theatre across conventional disciplinary and cultural boundaries, and develop their own interdisciplinary artistic perspective, which culminates in the fourth-year final performance project. The INTP Program’s emphasis on physical theatre, collaboration, interdisciplinarity, and world performance traditions attracts students from diverse social backgrounds and cultural legacies, including INTP Minors and BA students from a range of disciplines who take INTP courses as their electives.
In this challenging new era of economic and ecological turmoil, technological dominance, and corporate homogenization, live performance can inspire us to cherish cultural diversity, engage in sustainable artistic practices, contribute to community-based initiatives in support of social justice and participatory democracy, and enhance the quality of our everyday life. The INTP curriculum offers a balanced educational experience through the interrelation of creativity, personal growth, and collaborative learning. We engage INTP BFA Majors and non-Majors in the exploration of contemporary performance practices, experimental theatre, and the rich cultural legacy of world performance traditions, and foster through our teaching a shared sense of humanity as well as a genuine respect for diversity. In addition to fulfilling the mandate of the Humanities and Fine Arts in our faculty and university, our Program promotes an experiential approach to learning that empowers students to develop their creative potential beyond the limitations placed upon individuals by societal norms and expectations. While the interdisciplinary, intercultural, and collaborative nature of our pedagogical approach makes the INTP Program more inclusive than conventional theatre degrees, its distinctiveness lies in the value that we place on the interrelation of self-discipline, critical rigor, creative independence, and artistic versatility.
The Interdisciplinary Performance program is anchored in devised creation work. It is a form of creation in which the script originates not from a writer, but from collaborative, usually improvisatory work by the artists themselves. Unlike many forms of theatre that draw from already existing material, this style of practice is uniquely positioned to create work in response to current events as they unfold and in response to specific community concerns. Because of this, the program is well positioned within a radically shifting performance landscape.
This shift in performance practice is partly driven by the recognition that live performance is fundamentally different than film or television and that it has an important role to play in an age of electronically mediated communication. While film and television must always remain in “the black box”, the vehicle for live performance is flesh and blood. By asking a performer and a community to partake in an embodied symbolic activity of the “here and now”, live performance provides a deeply significant and deeply needed experience of belonging. Contemporary performance projects are often designed to address this need by going out into the community, interrupting habit, and engaging the sensorial bodies of its audience.
Many Canadian University Theatre programs are struggling to keep up with this trend. Hiring decisions across the country are reflecting a desire to reposition performance as a more flexible and interdisciplinary practice. Because many programs have full technical theatre support through costume and set design degrees, as well as discipline specific faculty better versed in training performers for the traditional stage, this transition is slow to happen.
The Interdisciplinary Performance Program at UBC Okanagan is, however, uniquely situated to embrace this trend. While we do not have the facilities nor a supporting technical theatre program to deliver a traditional theatre curriculum, we may benefit from not being encumbered by this same large traditional infrastructure. We are small and agile, and our recently created program was specifically designed to teach devised performance work and more entrepreneurial, non-traditional, and flexible approaches to performance practice. Interdisciplinarity is inherent in the degree as undergraduate BFA Interdisciplinary Performance students are mandated to take courses from Creative Writing, Visual Arts, Art History and Visual Culture, and English. They are also strongly advised to take courses in Cultural Studies. The Performance Minor complements other degrees well, particularly Cultural Studies, Creative Writing, Psychology and Education. Our Graduate Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies similarly supports a cross-disciplinary focus by mandating a secondary area of research to complement performance studies.
While we offer one undergraduate Interdisciplinary Performance BFA and all students within this degree have a standardized timetable of performance classes, our students can concentrate their interests in one of three streams within the degree by strategically choosing elective courses and courses within the Visual Arts and Creative Writing programs. Their fourth year of study provides the opportunity for them to create work dedicated to their research within their area of interest or “stream.” Currently these streams exist informally and each stream is by no means discrete. The aim of all three streams is to provide the students with a critical and supportive environment for the development of their artistic direction within an interdisciplinary environment. This includes theoretical, historical and technical expertise, as well as a critical awareness of how their work relates and fits into contemporary performance practices .
The primary emphasis of this stream is to prepare students for the requirements of a professional performance practice. This stream is designed for those students who intend to pursue a career in the performing arts as productive, innovative and receptive contemporary artists within established cultural industries. More and more regional theatres are abandoning their role as producers and are becoming presentation venues for touring productions. Smaller innovative companies are doing well within this model as they aren’t required to maintain an infrastructure as part of their operating funds. They are able to devote more time to the production of new and distinctive work and to tour this work throughout a network of sanctioned cultural venues and alternative venues such as art galleries, community spaces and arts festivals. The most successful of these smaller more agile companies consist of long-time collaborators/performers producing original devised work. Our program has an entrepreneurial spirit in that students are encouraged to embrace this model and to create their own projects and performance opportunities in addition to auditioning for existing ones, sourcing and organizing the required resources and taking both the risks and rewards associated with that venture. Throughout their BFA degree students have work-study opportunities as part of faculty research projects and as part of the University Theatre production team. They gain experience in the running of a theatre by providing the technical support for the University Theatre and assisting in its programming and publicity. Their opportunities within faculty research projects range from performance and design to technical direction and publicity. For their fourth-year culminating performance projects, students are responsible for all roles within the production process and the culminating devised theatre piece.
Stream 2: Applied Performance
This stream is for students who may not want to work within the long-established arts and culture industries, but are looking to apply performance in other contexts. There is a burgeoning of applied performance practice (performance practice that is applied beyond the traditional theatre context/purpose) on the contemporary performance landscape. This is partly driven by the political activism of artists committed to social justice, and by a decrease in funding for the arts, resulting in the performance artists’ need to find alternative funding sources through hybrid projects that involve non-arts organizations (like Health Canada or local municipalities). A prominent choreographer in Los Angeles, for example, has become a consultant for public art incentives designed to increase ridership on public transit. Professor Kenney is currently on a committee designed to institute a dual degree option for students coming from or going to the Faculty of Education. We also intend to introduce an applied theatre course in the third year of the program to further support this direction in performance practice. There is great potential for this stream to provide service courses for areas such as Management and Social Work. We already have a large number of students from the faculty of Management taking our classes. Like the professional artist stream, students within this stream are responsible for all aspects of production, but culminating fourth-year projects within this stream might include educational programs within local schools, community engagement strategies or politically motivated activist activities.
Stream 3: Practice-Based Research/ Performance Studies
Performance Studies as an academic discipline has brought a broader perspective to the study of performance. It includes traditional performance events as well as sporting events, social and political experiences and religious ceremonies and rituals. Consequently, performance studies is inherently interdisciplinary and draws on the performing arts as well as anthropology, sociology, cultural studies, art history, and other research areas such as environmental science. Practice-based research is a form of research that integrates the professional practice of an artist or designer with specific research questions, methods and outcomes. The research may be about art or for art (in the form of an exploration of new performance practices or contexts). It might also take the form of “research as art”, where the outcome of the research is communicated through a work of art. There is great potential for this stream to attract students from other faculties and disciplines interested in doing a Minor in performance along with their primary area of study. Like the other two streams, students are responsible for all aspects of production, but the process is motivated by a specific research question and the culminating product within this stream might take the form of something other than a work of art.
I intend to introduce three new elective courses in 2014 in an effort to enrich the current curriculum, and in response to perceived needs. These elective courses would be offered when possible within the constraints of our current teaching schedule.
Applied Performance (THTR 303)
Text, Voice and Chorus (THTR 203)
Narrative Film (VISA 372)