Summary: Matthew considers the MA to be an important milestone in his career as a theatre practitioner and found the teaching on his course and the facilities in the Workshop Theatre to be fantastic.
I became interested in theatre as a means for political activism whilst I was studying at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA). As a result of this interest, I began to work for a range of theatre companies in Liverpool exploring ways of engaging marginalised communities. Over four years I facilitated and directed a range of shows with various communities and settings i.e. prisons and the homeless community. As well as theatre, I am an avid musician writing music for stage productions as well as the sheer enjoyment of playing with friends.
Theatre has the potential to transform society; this is what makes me passion about my area of study. The empowerment of individuals and communities by creative practice is extremely powerful and liberating. However, I believe theatre for social change practice should never become static or dogmatic. The interrogation of practice and the opportunity to create new ways of working is an aspect which I am very passionate about. Ultimately, developing practices to enable effective empowerment of communities is my main motivation for study.
Whilst working as a freelance practitioner, I realised that my practice was in need of something new or needed to be more robust. I thoroughly enjoyed the academic aspect of my work at BA level and was willing to continue study but wanted to ensure further study would be unique and offer an aspect of practice and theory that I didn’t already have. The combination of modules on offer at Leeds with the School of Politics and International Studies and the teaching staff on the course ensured that the course was truly unique. Also, the combination of practice and theory offered was reassuring and extremely important to obtaining employment in the arts. It was the only MA course I applied for due to its combined and original approach, I feel very fortunate to have been selected. At the beginning of semester two, we had a two week professional placement with Mind the Gap, a theatre company based in nearby Bradford. It was a very exciting opportunity to observe and participate in a practice which is nationally renowned. The professionalism and quick pace of working was inspiring which resulted in a short and effective performance. The practical nature of the placement enabled me to apply the theoretical approaches of semester one in to practice. Also, the seminar based teaching throughout the year enabled strong debates and unique chance to work alongside teaching staff.
As I was based in the Workshop Theatre, the facilities were fantastic. The whole building is equipped with the latest theatre technology as well as video editing and recording suites. However, the most important aspect was that it was all made very accessible to students and they were encouraged to take advantage of the facilities as often as possible. This led me to developing my technical theatre skills enormously. The open approach of using facilities applies to the rest of the University with people offering help at every corner.
Whilst studying at Leeds I was constantly surprised at the range of chances which were offered to students. To work with and attend lectures by industry professionals as often as I did was incredible. The choice and quantity of workshops/ lectures to attend outside of study was extremely helpful.Leeds is a beautiful city which upholds its grand heritage alongside its modern developments. The West Yorkshire Playhouse is my personal highlight; it is an awe inspiring space which has a fantastic programme of work throughout the year. Leeds is also surrounded by the beauty of the Yorkshire dales, as an avid walker I spent many weekends escaping from studies and walking through the beautiful scenery it offers. The combination of busy and exciting city life is diversified by its stunning and quiet surroundings.
The MA has been the most important milestone in my career as a theatre practitioner and academic. The teaching staff and facilities offer challenges which ultimately develop you as a thinker and a practitioner. The MA strikes the perfect chord between practice and theory; this has increased my opportunities within academia and the creative industries. Without the MA and all the positive experiences it has provided I wouldn’t have been able to secure the employment I have undertaken since I finished the MA. Now I have completed the MA I have been in post for the past 6 months as youth theatre director at Collective Encounters in Liverpool. Collective Encounters is a theatre for social change company and within the work we do, I lead on all of the youth projects. These include; weekly youth theatre sessions, outreach programmes, attendance at national conferences and the production of performances for communities in Liverpool and the North West region. We have recently finished a small scale tour with the youth theatre and attended a range of master classes at the Royal Opera House in London. Unequivocally, it has been the teaching of the MA which enabled me to suit the needs of the job. I am also interested in undertaking study at PhD level in the near future.