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Performance Design Education: Future Graduate Skillsets

10 February 2021

Performance Design Education: Future Graduate Skillsets


Image Credit: Photo by Alex Brenner

On 2nd December 2020, In the midst of COVID-19 restrictions, the Society of British Theatre Designers held the fourth in a series of dynamic dialogues with practitioners based in the East Midlands (and further afield), connected to the Staging Places exhibition at the NCCD (National Centre for Craft and Design). The event, Performance Design Education: future graduate skillsets was led by the SBTD Education Working Group and facilitated by Nadia Malik (London College of Fashion, UAL). The aim of the three 2-hour seminar sessions was to invite dialogue touching on some of the pressing issues in Performance Design education, with no speakers, only provocations, guided discussions and ‘what ifs’ in a forum for performance practitioners, educators and students alike. The open call for participants was based on this premise:

Performance practice is morphing into a new realm where creative boundaries are porous: practitioners will be able to harness the power of physical proximity and the reach of remote practice in symbiosis. Now is the moment to be to be curious about and playful with the full range of tools and opportunities available to us, to learn to speak the language of other disciplines and to take risks. As we move forward, graduates with expanded perspectives will pioneer fresh forms of storytelling. Through the continuous exchange of industry and education, young practitioners will invent new practices for a future industry that embraces and celebrates the diversity of performance design and making into the future.

Flex: embedding emerging technologies (session 1) aimed to capture thoughts about how we embed the use of technology in artistic practice, the technical support and infrastructures that Higher Education (henceforth referred to as HE) may need to enable this and how we might re-educate and re-skill ourselves as tech-savvy educators.

Flux: remodelling the landscape (session 2) aimed to garner responses around what performance-relevant HE structures and departments might look like, what we might learn from Performance Design education around the world and how we might harness knowledge exchange between students and practitioners.

Fly: imagining the future (session 3) aimed to bring together ideas about as-yet non-existent potential jobs in Performance design and making and think about what skills graduates might need for these future practices.

Contained in the full PDF report is a summary of the thoughts of a shifting group of academics, practitioners and students over the course of the day. The content does not necessarily represent the personal position of the author or any other individual present, but rather represents the flow of a wide ranging group discussion. There were many points of connection across each session, hence, thoughts are presented under themed headings without strictly following the named session categories above. The aim is to summarise only the main discussion points of the day and to encourage ongoing frank dialogue. Those themes are further abridged here as an encouragement to visit the longer PDF report and an invitation to join the conversation:


  • The value and perception of Design for Performance courses at HE in the ongoing ‘vocational’ versus ‘academic’ debate.
  • Where the idea of ‘private until perfect’ might have come from in terms of a general reticence in sharing the ‘mess’ of working processes, the effect this might have on wellbeing / the imagination / collaboration and ways in which HE Design for Performance educators might approach or think about their roles.
  • The many ways in which emerging creative technologies are changing / will change HE design courses and industry along with the value of and challenges in embedding creative technologies into Design for Performance courses.
  • Ways to rethink HE structures so that they might serve the practice of Design for Performance more appropriately.
  • The importance of community and communality.
  • Preparing Design for Performance graduates for realistic 21st century future pathways that do not perpetuate a mythical or unachievable career trajectory.
  • Ideas and initiatives that the SBTD might consider in support of some of the discussion points.
  • Some summary thoughts about the need to educate for analogue and digital versatility and cross-disciplinarity


Many thanks to all those who attended and contributed, in particular the co-hosts and ‘provocateurs’: Helen Davies (Nottingham Trent University), Emma Donovan and Jason Wiggin (University of Lincoln), Kate Lane (Central Saint Martins, UAL) and Rob Halliday (freelance Lighting Designer).

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