The Autonomous Performer and Ensemble 24 week module is one of the final strands for students undertaking the BA Hons Drama and Performance Course at Inverness College UHI. Within this the students study contemporary solo performance, theory and practice and propose and produce their own solo performances. They do this within the wider context of being an ensemble of creative practitioners supporting each other to reflect on contemporary practice whilst cultivating their own voices and visions.
This year was the second year I led on delivering this module to students whom I first met 4 years ago when I taught them Movement in their HNC year. The module is 75% self-directed by the students with 25% being taught/led sessions and Work In Progress (WIP) presentations.
This year we studied contemporary solo performances, theory and practice including the work of Bryony Kimmings, Bobby Baker, Tim Etchells, Mike Pearson and Anna Deveare Smith. Within this we recognised a diversity of practice, creative methods and audience intentions. We challenged each other to articulate and recognise what called to each of us as performance makers. What would be useful to draw from, what invited us in, excited us, inspired our practice. Core reading for the module included Misri Dey’s Making Solo Performance and Julia Cameron’s The Artists Way. The latter book invited the students to recognise their Censors, what got in the way of their creativity and introduced them to practices of automatic writing/daily morning pages and taking themselves out on a weekly Artist's Date. Tasks in the first semester included noticing what inspires/makes you happy and writing a spoken word piece on this theme; sharing Love Stories and encapsulating the essences of these stories in a single performative action.
We identified early on that being an autonomous performer does not mean being a lonely artist and doing everything in isolation and by yourself. Rather, it invites a reflective and personalised creative practice and a grows a practitioner who is hungry/keen to find/develop their voice and bring this voice forward into a realised vision to share with others. Students worked weekly in small pods/supportive groups to unfold their visions and practically try them out through WIP (work in performance). The WIP were extended into the whole Autonomous Ensemble at points as the students began to create digital performance materials to show, ask questions about, and invite feedback from each other.
And we did all this online. In our respective homes, sitting, moving around, setting up and filming in our once private spaces that had now become public and open for all to view. Here we witnessed each other beginning to explore making live art work and theatre for a digital platform. During each WIP I witnessed the students advance their skills in editing, music composition, still and moving imagery, storyline development and evolving innovative ways to reveal them.
These final year students have worked amazingly through the challenges that the Pandemic has brought to many of us. They have continued to show up week in week out and work through difficult feelings, challenges to mental, emotional and physical health alongside technological and internet break downs. Through all this they have learned to cultivate a strong work ethic, self-motivation and a positive outlook and have continued to act as encouraging witnesses for each other.
To you then, Class of 2021 Autonomous Performers and Ensemble, I take my metaphorical top hat off. You have without a doubt kept my Mondays alive to what is possible and impossible, you have inspired me endlessly, long may your creative voices and visions flow out into the world. We need what each of you has to offer.
To you, our digital on-line audience, welcome, I hope you enjoy this sampling of vision and innovation from a new generation of creative practitioners.
Thank you all for tuning in.