Research @ LAMDA
by Artistic Director, Nathalie Carrington
As part of my Masters in Inclusive Arts Practice at the University of Brighton, I’ve been undertaking arts based research in partnership with LAMDA.
Due to increasing public engagement with issues of diversity and exclusion, drama schools and performing arts institutions are today required to consider how inclusivity should impact their organisational practices and, even further, the training discipline itself. However, the centralisation of inclusive values poses a number of challenges to the way drama schools today enrol, teach and evaluate their students.
While progress may have been made for a number of excluded groups, notably physically disabled performers, individuals with learning disabilities today lack the opportunities to enter into training settings due to a range of accessibility barriers - including the prevalence of text-based approaches, as well as a reliance on verbal instruction. Before institutional change can occur, the arts sector may need to invest in initiatives that can help deepen understanding of inclusive methods and their relation to core acting principles.
Seeking to create a platform for such exploration to take place, I undertook research into the potential benefits of integrated practice within a drama school setting.
What can be learnt from an integrated exchange between performers with learning disabilities and drama school graduates, and how can it influence approaches to professional actor training?
Who? 3 drama school graduates & 3 learning disabled performers from the borough of Hammersmith and Fulham.
When? October -December 2017
Over 8 weeks research, participants met once a week for two hour sessions facilitated by myself. During each session we explored a different acting discipline. Our sessions culminated in a performance sharing for LAMDA staff and students. To read about each session in more detail please have a read of our blog.
Drawing on the "ethics of encounter" outlined by Alice Fox and Hannah Macpherson in Inclusive Arts Practice and Research: A Critical Manifesto, I established frameworks for collaboration emphasising trust, openness and creative freedom.
The impact of our research was measured through qualitative and quantitative methods before, during and after our work together.
All drama school graduates who took part agreed that they would have benefited from taking part in similar programs during their actor training. During the course of our workshops, they gained insights into core aspects of the acting discipline and their own practice. Notably, many of the graduates felt that they were challenged to engage in deeper listening and give free reign to their creative impulses - both essential skills of significant value within the acting profession.
“It definitely helped me deal with whatever is in the rehearsal room that day. You can have your ideal process, but then that gets thrown out the window, depending on what someone else brings. Seeing that as a positive was very liberating.”
In addition to this, we found there were significant personal benefits experienced by the performers with learning disabilities who participated in my research. These included increased self-esteem and confidence, fostering communication skills and developing a clearer sense of identity and autonomy. The experience seemed especially valuable as, within the drama school setting, they were able to act as equal participants and integrate with a specialist community otherwise inaccessible to them.
Throughout the process I found that inclusive practice can be a catalyst for actors in training to develop their understanding and command of core acting principles:
- Acting ‘in the moment’ - Requires actors to embrace uncertainty and challenge conventional limitations within the process.
- Listening in performance - Requires actors to extend their listening to total communication - beyond words.
- Not end-gaining - Requires actors to trust the process and see it as the end in itself.
- Learning through failure - Requires actors to be vulnerable on stage and embrace failure, seeing risk as not only survivable, but necessary for their work.
- A sense of play - Requires actors to collaborate through play, in constant dialogue with each other and their own inner creativity.
- Wellbeing in practice - Requires actors to see, hear and accept what others are offering. Equally, they will learn to accept whatever it is that they themselves bring to the work.
- Self reflection - Requires actors to self-reflect on their contribution to the process and insights from it.
There is an opportunity for training organisations to build on these insights, providing a platform for more extensive research in this field. In particular, an extended programme could explore the impact of inclusive practice:
With actors who are currently in training
With actors participating on a non-voluntary basis (ie. as part of their timetable)
That is integrated and in response to the curriculum and course design
That culminates in training goals
I am currently in conversation with the Widening and Participation teams at RADA and LAMDA regarding the continuation of my research and potential funding for such activities. Drawing on Vanessa Brooks’ ‘Silent Approach’, I aim to explore how text-based theatre can be made accessible to performers with learning disabilities through non-verbal approaches and how these methods may in turn inform mainstream theatre practices.
Fox, A. and Macpherson, H. (n.d.). Inclusive arts practice and research.
Hargrave, M. (n.d.). Theatres of learning disability.
brooks, v. (2018). [online] Vanessabrooks2020.files.wordpress.com. Available at: https://vanessabrooks2020.files.wordpress.com/2017/06/separate-doors-2-report-vanessa-brooks.pdf [Accessed 16 Aug. 2018].
Gee, E. and Hargrave, M. (2011). A proper actor? The politics of training for learning disabled actors. Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, 2(1), pp.34-53.
Hodge, A. (2009). Twentieth century actor training. London: Routledge.
Creative response to the research
During my research I became interested in the dynamic relationship between people and the environments they inhabit. In particular, I observed how being in the drama school setting raised the self-esteem of learning disabled participants, giving them a platform to see themselves as valued collaborators in their own right. In turn, our work allowed drama school graduates to reclaim and reimagine the familiar training space, rediscovering core acting disciplines in surprising, new contexts. Drawing on these insights I has begun to develop a concept of “inclusive place”, which her creative response is designed to describe and explore. The map has been designed as an interactive installation for students and teachers at LAMDA. The audience is invited to populate blank versions of the map with “landmark” stamps, engaging them with happenings from our inclusive process, and demonstrating metaphorically the reclaiming of physical space that occurs in inclusive practice.