New methods in drama research

By Sean Sullivan

Masters of Fine Arts students from the University of Calgary’s School for the Creative and Performing Arts will explore new ways of studying the development of plays this fall.

The School for the Creative and Performing Arts is partnering with Alberta Theatre Projects to bring students from the MFA program’s research methods course into the process of creating plays for the Enbridge Playrites Festival. Students will create performance-based archival materials for their class project in addition to the typical essays required by the university course. Through a selection or combination of photography, audio, video or other methods, students will record their experiences during the development of ATP’s plays.

“With the access that we’ve got to new media we have an ability to archive this important work in a way that will be meaningful for students, scholars and artists in the future,” said Patrick Finn, who is teaching the research methods course. “It’s insufficient to just write down notes and have a few [photographs].”

Because of the low cost of audio and video recording, Finn says this project will allow a new method of studying drama that was not available even a few years ago.

“New media has revolutionized our ability to engage with the performing arts,” Finn says.

Finn says he introduced new textbooks into his research methods course last year that dealt with multimedia research projects, but this year he wanted to get students to create their own case studies.

With the use of new forms of media, scholars could use still photographs to demonstrate the various visual influences in a production — Finn offered ATP’s production of John Logan’s play Red as an example, a play about abstract painter Mark Rothko — or use video to map the choreography of a dancer’s movements. There are multiple methods of recording that can be used to provide a representation of a production’s development.

The project will be a multimedia-based study of a researcher’s experience while involved in the creation of the play.

Finn says that because the Playrites Festival is usually the first time a new play is performed, creating new archival material while a play is being produced will provide a new opportunity for playwrights. They will be able to look back on the students’ work when they return to refine and produce newer versions of their play later.

“We don’t often get a chance to create a record of the work, much less a thoughtful academic study of what was created, how it was created and what was learned from it,” ATP interim artistic director Vicki Stroich says. “It’s very exciting to us to be starting to build that with the U of C and build a record of the process with these students.”

Because there are four plays being produced simultaneously, the Playrites Festival is a unique opportunity for students to get involved in the process of producing different plays during a short period of time.

Stroich says ATP often invites people to come see the process of developing plays, including university students. Stroich and Finn had been discussing ways of creating a formal method of involving students for more than a year before the partnership was announced.

The partnership will pair a half dozen students with professional artists. Finn says he’ll be sitting down with ATP to develop a series of projects and case studies based on the four plays and the research focus of the MFA students in the class, so that students can be matched with projects that suit their individual interests.

The collaboration will be another mentorship opportunity for students in addition to several already offered by ATP, including job shadowing and an internship program already offered in partnership with the U of C.

Finn says that because the partnership is a new method of studying plays, he’ll be reporting on the project to the Canadian Association for Theatre Research and the American Society for Theatre Research.

Leave a comment