Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Three years in arty heaven. 1989-1992

My choice to study for the Creative Arts BA (hons) degree was made as a mature student and I was granted a place after two interviews covering performance and the visual arts at Nottingham Polytechnic, now Nottingham Trent University. I based my answers on the experience I had gained as an actor in amateur theatre and my love of photography, creative writing and experimental art works. Remember I had come from a working class background and spent most of my working life as a butcher and had no formal qualifications when I entered the life of a university student. It was a whole new and exciting world in the world of BACA.

The course started over at the Clifton Campus and moved to the city centre in my third year.

The students on the course gained experience and tutoring in various disciplines including performance, sound, music, visual art, sculpture, installation work and performance art. The skills of documentation through writing and other media were highly encouraged throughout the three year course as well as working with other students from other academic years. Emphasis was placed on the production of interdisciplinary or hybrid work in order for the students to acquire cross-disciplinary skills during the studies and to broaden the individual’s artistic outlook.


Although the course was structured in an academic form with dissertations and graded expectations the focus was on self development as an artist and working with visiting practitioners such as Neil Bartlett as well as seeking placement opportunities in the final year. The second year provided an opportunity to travel abroad to study art for a short period and whilst I studied I travelled to Berlin, Paris, Moscow and Leningrad to develop my skills and to gain influences for my self –penned performance pieces. Throughout the whole course I worked with students from other creative disciplines on performance pieces and art projects and we were all encouraged to be critical in an academic sense. There was also a strong emphasis on developing a structured opinion on one’s own projects and on those we visited at galleries, theatres and found spaces.

Jazz breakfast at The Old Angel pub in Nottingham.

On Sunday mornings I was often found at the Old Angel pub in Hockley for their lovely filling Jazz breakfast - a big fry up, a hot coffee and some hot jazz. Fond memories.

I was involved in many performance pieces during my time at the University and helped to write and devise many of them. It would take a long time to write about each performance piece individually so I am going to make a list which is by no means exclusive or indeed chronological.

Home: collaborative writer and performer

Friend or Foe: collaborative writer and performer

The Palm Wine drunkard. Collaborative devisor and performer.

Mountain Language: Pinter. Performer.

The Nonsense of Mr Lear: collaborative writer and performer as Edward Lear.

Beowulf: played Beowulf in Nottingham Fringe Festival show.

Cul de Sac: collaborative writer and performer.

Lovich’s Lightening Enlightenment tour. Writer/devisor/performer.

Taming a Cloud of Butterflies: writer and performer.

Apollinaire: writer and performer.

Bare-Bear: writer and performer.

Nellie Wallace: performer.

The Dresser: Norman lead role.

Les Misérables: Nottingham Playhouse. Various characters.


I was also involved in three or four student films as a performer and collaborative writer and engaged thoroughly in the practical theatre workshops usually centred around creating performance rather than using theatre texts or plays. I was very into performance poetry at the time and did my final ‘special study’ written dissertation on this topic and had a one to one workshop with Adrian Henri the beat poet from Liverpool. By the time of the third year the wackier the performance the more I was interested in being involved and Performance Art usually meant some performer sans clothes – to express themselves artistically, of course.



The visual arts side of the course saw me struggling initially with a lack of ideas and all the other young art students seemed to be so gifted and creative with their installations and ‘off the wall’ art pieces – fish hanging out of letterboxes and the like. It took me a while to catch up and I started by drawing cartoons of my fellow students and making fimo models. This wasn’t what the course was about really and I got my creative juices going with a move into photography and using that as my medium. Being around the other creative folk was very inspirational too. In my first year and having been out of education for such a long time I found the academic language difficult to decipher. They used terms like minor project and major project and I had no idea of their importance. The high art language used in some of the lectures confused me and often left me puzzled as well. Eventually it all started to make some kind of sense with the encouragement of tutors such as John Newling and Mike Carradice.
At the end of my second year my year end work was a photographic display of images dealing with male sexuality – the sensitive side of men being the point of the photo collection. On Wednesdays all the BACA students went over to the Broadway Cinema to study film. What a tough life!

Scene from Home.

Some of the course texts we were supposed to read were a great challenge to the students who all complained about the difficulty of the study. A few examples are Peter Brook’s The Empty Space, Augusto Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed and Ways of Seeing by John Berger. I’m sure that there are a few more that my brain has banned from returning to haunt me.

I found the whole experience of taking the degree as a mature student artistically valuable and it helped me to develop and hone my writing skills (articles, theatre writing, performance poetry, essays etc) as well as give me an education about the world of contemporary art/theatre and knowledge of cultural development historically throughout the arts.

some of my art student friends

Retrospectively, I feel that the course gave me some valuable insights and helped me to expand as a writer and theatre practitioner and helped to considerably broaden my creative perspective. In addition it gave me a flexible approach to acquiring the requisite skills needed to function and grow as a creative artist.

2 comments:

Gail's Man said...

Interesting little monologue. I too was a mature student. Nothing so exciting as art, as I did a degree in business administration. So i suppose that's why I do drama and photography, to keep my creative side going.

Phil said...

Gail'sMan: Thanks for your comment. Not sure what you mean by 'interesting little monologue' as it's not a piece to be performed alone and the dictionary describes as such.