BWW Blog: Royal Central School of Speech and Drama's Sylvan Baker on Applied Theatre and The Verbatim Formula
Dr Sylvan Baker is a practitioner and researcher as well as a Lecturer in Community Performance Applied Theatre at London's Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. His research is focused on social justice and engaged arts predominantly with young people.
Applied theatre at Central is highly regarded internationally as a world leader with the largest number of specialist teaching staff in the field. Students undertake undergraduate study on the Drama, Applied Theatre and Education or the Writing for Performance courses, as well as postgraduate study on the MA Applied Theatre course where they focus either on Drama in the Community and Drama Education or Drama and the Criminal Justice System.
In this article, Sylvan talks about applied theatre, socially engaged arts and social justice, and about The Verbatim Formula (of which he is a Co-Director and Researcher), a project working with young people with experience of care.
All of my own research is based on practice and deeply connected to the community; working with young people who have experience of the care system, it encourages them to use their expertise through performance and thus provide feedback on this system. One of the joys of my job as a lecturer in applied theatre is being able to share my practice with students and help them develop as practitioners and artists and they, in turn, improve my research.
Other than to entertain, in what ways can art make a contribution to society, and can performance advance social justice?
These are two of the central questions faced by practitioners working in the field of applied theatre. For them the process of engaging with communities, of various sorts, brings to the fore how artistic practice and drama can be used as a bridge to improving social justice.
Sometimes the motivation for applying theatre might be change; but it is equally applicable in creating an environment for individuals to reflect on their situation and begin to decide for themselves what they might want to do about it. In this way, inviting people to engage with each other through a process that is centred in the arts is my personal motivation for my work and research. One such example of that research is The Verbatim Formula. This is a project that uses the spoken performance practice of verbatim as a means to not just invite participants to engage with an artistic process but to become co-researchers in the ongoing development and evolution of the process.
The verbatim formula is a platform that allows young people with experience of the UK care system to draw upon that experience and share their expertise with the adult professionals who manage the system. The young people interview one another, record the interviews, and decide which sections of their testimony (based on their own experiences of care) can be shared with a wider audience. This is done with a view to inviting that audience to engage both intellectually and emotionally with the issues of care. It is a project which consciously chooses to use verbatim as a means of triggering listening, reflection and then conversation.
The young care experienced researchers have said that what is important to them as users of the care system is a hope that the adults administrating the system can understand what it 'feels like' to be in care.
Based on their experiences, they believe that such an understanding would allow the adults in the system to re-design how it operates and to improve it. Although this research is very much based on performance, the verbatim, the process doesn't end there. The testimonies collected by the young researchers, generate responses from their audiences which in themselves become further testimonies which deepen and enrich the conversations about care. This practical process begins with young people but also involves foster carers, social workers and others connected to the care system. In this way applied theatre - with performance located at its core - can be a catalyst for a range of activities that may begin with conversation; the construction of other artistic products, installations, films or other forms of performance which in themselves are beneficial but also the performance remains the focus for all those participants and researchers interested in creating a system of social care that is as supportive as possible.
The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama is a leading UK drama school located in London - a highly regarded, specialist conservatoire and a constituent college of the prestigious University of London. Central provides specialist training in the dramatic and performing arts, offering Bachelor's and Master's degrees as well as short courses and PhD opportunities. Students from across the world study on Central courses, bringing a rich diversity of skills and experience to create a unique community and training environment.
All of Central's courses take place on the school's Swiss Cottage campus in Hampstead, a quiet, leafy corner of London which is only 10 minutes by tube from the bright lights of central London's West End theatre district. Central's campus houses the 234 seat Embassy Theatre, numerous workshops, rehearsal, movement and performance studios and the new £16.7 million state of the art North Block building comprising a studio dedicated to film, media and digital work and a galleried, courtyard theatre.
Central holds auditions and interviews for its courses across the globe, including San Francisco (4 and 5 February 2020) and New York City (8 and 9 February 2020). To find out more and to register your interest in being considered for a course, please visit the Central website here.
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