Socially engaged, participatory work is a healthy part of any artistic practice. What is any art form without the community it serves? Even so, ArtWorks investigated the landscape for artists working in participatory settings from 2011 to 2015 and identified a need for more training in this area. Carlos Lopez-Real is the leader of a new programme at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, established in collaboration with the Barbican Centre in response to these findings. He sees the route previously taken by artists to create a socially engaged practice as “ad-hoc”, and believes “a lot of artists working in participatory settings across a range of art forms are crying out for more training”.

The course created by the two institutions is the BA (Hons) in Performance and Creative Enterprise; the first intake of six students started the inaugural course this September and as I spoke with Lopez-Real they were all taking a voice class. This might not seem unusual but one of the unique things about this course is that it’s open to a range of artists from poets, to musicians, to theatre-makers, to spoken word. Collaboration is key and Lopez-Real explains the course is “a balance between developing individual craft one on one, and in a group context and then developing their group, collaborative and ensemble working skills”.

For theatre-makers the course will appeal to “people who are interested in devised and physical theatre”. Lopez-Real stresses there’s no need for any experience in these areas, but it definitely is “not the right course for someone who essentially wants to be an actor, a director or a writer purely”. This is a course for those who are interested in cross arts collaboration “in developing new material with musicians, poets etc.”. For people who feel like traditional theatre training routes don’t engage with them, this may be an excellent option.

For Lopez-Real another unique element of the course is its combination of “a cross arts way of working within a socially engaged practice with the enterprise, entrepreneurship strand of it. And all that centred around new work as well.” He is emphatic about the importance of the enterprise strand, describing it as “a bit of a no-brainer really”:

“Gone are the days when you graduate from a performing arts course and walk into ‘a job’. It’s more about developing a portfolio approach to a career and having the entrepreneurial skills to conceive projects, work with many collaborators, source the funding, market it, really drive it yourself.”

Any recent graduates trying to forge a career in the arts will surely see the truth in this statement. Lopez-Real is aware that our current cultural landscape is frequently changing and artists need to be able to respond to this. The course aims to give students the ”flexibility and adaptability to cope with whatever the changing funding climate might be”.

Lopez-Real sees another attraction being the strong industry links students will have access to from both the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the Barbican Centre. The current students are “already collaborating with students across Barbican and Guildhall, and further afield as well”. The course is structured to be “a journey from the focus being on site at Guildhall-Barbican to moving gradually offsite”. From shadowing other practitioners and companies, to taking the lead on creative projects in the community the course becomes more student-led as it progresses.

In their final year students take part in a residency lasting several weeks where the group lives and works in a community outside of London. “They’ll be working in a new community, responding to whatever the issues are and developing new work in response to that”, Lopez-Real explains. Another aspect of the final year he is keen to mention is the placement. Each student gets around 150 hours to work with an artist, organisation or company of their choosing “within reasonable limits”, Lopez-Real laughs. The course leaders will, he says, “have set up a whole bunch of probabilities in advance, but realistically by the time they get to that stage we’d expect the students would come to us and say ‘I really want to work with…’ and we’ll try and make that happen”. With Guildhall-Barbican connections like Simon McBurney’s Complicite I doubt any student will be disappointed with their bespoke placement.

The Performance and Creative Enterprise programme embraces diversity amongst students and teaching staff. From poet Jacob Sam La-Rose to performer Dinah Stabb each core staff member has a strong focus on cross art form working, socially engaged practice and entrepreneurial skills. As well as the core staff a range of visiting artists teach on the course; David Harradine of Fevered Sleep and Endy McKay of Outspoken Arts are just a couple lined up for future visits. Having core staff and visiting artists from a wide range of professions enables the students to “discover new angles on their craft through working with artists in other areas”.

Lopez-Real speaks enthusiastically of the current students, how they all have “very individual, different approaches but come together to work really well as a team”. He’s excited to meet the applicants for September 2016 entry when he looks to take at least ten new students and see how the course grows from there. Applications for September entry are currently open and close 7 March. Auditions are a one-stage process involving group-based exercises and devising tasks, then individual slots where applicants can share and discuss their own work.

More details on the course and how to apply can be found at Guildhall School of Music and Drama

Image by Mark Allan