Reflections on Performance
Faculty of Performance 2014 Performance 2014
The Author, Dominic Williams is a Carmarthenshire-based writer and poet. He has edited a volume of local history, Carmarthen (NPI Media Group), and as well as creative non-fiction he has poetry published in books and magazines in Wales and Ireland. With Irish poet Denis Collins he was the co-founder of the Wales Ireland Spoken Word and Poetry Alliance, WISPA, and regularly hosts literary events and workshops in Wales and Ireland. One of his poems taken from Red Lamp, Black Piano (Tara Press) is on permanent display alongside a painting by Iwan Bala, both works inspired by a common conversation in Maryâ€™s Bar, Wexford. Williams is currently on the editorial board of the New Welsh Review and has delivered lectures to students of Creative Writing and Professional Arts Management at UWTSD.
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University of Wales Trinity Saint David Faculty of Performance Dean’s Office Carmarthen Campus Carmarthen SA31 3EP Centre for Contemporary Performance Practices Swansea Townhill Campus contact: firstname.lastname@example.org 01792 482013 School of Performing Arts Carmarthen Campus contact: email@example.com 01267 676669
School of Sport, Health and Outdoor Education Carmarthen Campus contact progamme directors directly, details within the magazine Animal Studies Colegsirgâr Pibwrlwyd Campus contact: firstname.lastname@example.org 01554 748000 Creative Industries, Sport, Leisure and Tourism Colegsirgâr Graig campus contact: email@example.com 01554 748000 Wales International Academy of Voice Cardiff Campus contact: firstname.lastname@example.org 02920 359396 Dean of Faculty Roger Maidment Assistant Dean Andy Williams Head of School of Sport, Health and Outdoor Education Ceredig Emanuel Head of School of Performing Arts Mark Kelley Director of Wales International Academy of Voice Dennis O’Neill Programme Director for Centre of Contemporary Performance Practices Jason Benson Animal Studies Janet Morgan Head of Creative Industries, Sport, Leisure and Toursim Sarah Hopkins Coleg Ceredigion contact: email@example.com
elcome to Reflections on Performance.
Last summer a new faculty was created by the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. The Faculty of Performance, incorporated a varied range of courses from a number of academic schools, all of whom epitomise the practice-based education increasingly being delivered by the University. As would be expected, numerous conversations took place to establish the ethos and values of this new configuration of subjects.
At the centre of every discussion were the learners; their potential, their ambitions and passions and how, as a group of educators, we could help them to realise these aspirations, gain exciting and challenging employment and develop as active, creative individuals and team players. The more we talked, despite our different disciplines, the clearer we became about our shared attitudes and approaches to learning and teaching. In summary, we found that we believed in “whole person education”, an acknowledgement that higher education should be more than simply an intellectual experience but should include an explicit commitment to the learner’s physical and emotional development. Each student is an individual and, over the course of their time at University, will develop a self-awareness that is unique. Our role is to generate a learning environment that is challenging, exciting and assists in shaping and developing this self-awareness within the context of a broader environment. As we reflected on the demands of future employers and the characteristics of successful entrepreneurs a key phase emerged, that of “Personal Performance”. In this context, “performance” references an individual’s confidence to take risks, the imagination to initiate ideas and a work ethic to see things through to completion. It may be within a major touring production, the landscape, in competition or in the analysis of a controversial social issue. As the new Faculty of Performance began to take shape, the writer Dominic Williams was tasked with undertaking a personal journey to explore how this commitment to whole person education, was being interpreted within the various discipline areas, to meet some of the key staff and learn of their personal motivations and philosophies regarding performance.
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Performing with Animals About a mile after the river Tywi has left Carmarthen Town, it shares its environs with Pibwrlwyd Flats. The summer of 2013 has been warm and dry so, as I make the short walk from the roundabout to the Pibwrlwyd campus, it is through the river’s light mist. I enter Reception and ask where the Animal Centre is; I’ve never been in there before. A porter tells me he hasn’t either but he’s heard a lot about it. “It’s new, brand new, state of the art.” He is interrupted by a response to his phone call - Janet Morgan of Animal Studies is waiting for me across the road. Janet is bubbling over to show me her new centre, but even more so, to tell me about her students and their achievements. I’ve asked Janet to tell me a little bit about her courses, but she’s delegated that to her students and they have been just as eager to provide the info for me. I’m examining emails of responses from graduates. While I’m scanning these, Janet is still talking about her students’ awards and excellence. I need an anchor point in our conversation and the word performance is cast as a catalyst into the room. Janet is using performance as a measure. For her, excellence as a standard is intrinsic to the educational process. As in many languages, dysgu in Welsh means both to teach and to learn and it is the pursuit of excellence in that shared process that galvanises Janet. “100% employment of graduates in roles associated with their study, or running their own business. That,” proclaims Janet, “is a successful performance.” I ask Janet if she has some images for the publication. She swings around in her chair to the PC and starts tapping away; everything is there, everything is prepared for me, I watch her sweeping though files and folders, her obvious enthusiasm matched by extremely effective organisation. The screen flashes and I’m struck by a very dynamic image of a dog in training. “Oh, Jackie,” says Janet, “she’s written something for you.” I look to see what Jackie has written. “The course gave me the ability to put into practice my new-gained knowledge, and helped develop my confidence with the support I received from the lecturers at the college, so much so that with my partner I decided to set up our own dog training business (Extremus Dog Training). The business will be launched in August and will be offering placements to new students (my way of giving back). I will also be continuing my studies with the new BSc Honours in Behaviour and Welfare. The course, I feel, is unique, as students are involved in all areas of development and are valued and encouraged to explore their own beliefs in an environment which actively helps us to bloom. The level of commitment given to the students encourages the student to reciprocate.” Janet can’t sit still any longer. “Come and see the Centre,” she invites. I can’t believe somewhere like this exists just a few hundred yards from my regular route into town. “It’s a centre of excellence,” claims Janet and what I see certainly bears that out. I’m not sure
whether it reminds me of a zoo or a pet shop - all sorts of animals, domestic and exotic (to me) in huge glass cases the size of rooms, aviaries and observation area. A very obviously hands-on facility and course! It’s a whirlwind tour - I’m meeting staff, students, animals. The chemistry between them all is tangible. Last year the Animal Science Department won the 2013 Award for Higher Education Learning and Development; it’s a recognition of staff achievement, but Janet is already crediting her students. “The BSc is a brand new programme”, she says, ”and it’s all as a result of the students.” Janet explains that they created not only the demand, but drove the educational process through student representation. And they’re achievers too, for sure. Twenty-nine-year-year-old Michael Colwill, from Fforestfach, won the Animal Health and Welfare, Horticulture and Environmental Life-long Learner of the Year category in Lantra’s 2012 Land-based Learner of the Year Award. The BSc is unique in Wales, the only programme of its kind to be available part-time. The greatest strength of the courses, both the Foundation degree and the new BSc, Janet believes, is in their accessibility and their flexibility - that’s what has generated such successful recruitment. We’re back outdoors and Janet leads me through the stables to a hidden footbridge, indicating the landscape beyond. It’s untamed woodland, accessible only by foot and only through the campus, while immediately in front of us is a pond deep with life. Janet starts to talk me through a real-life observation exercise. There are literally thousands of creatures here. My mind is spinning. The mist has cleared and Janet looks at me; she has so much more to say, but she has other things to do and she can see beyond my eyes. She smiles empathetically and invites me back anytime.
Unknown Pleasures 2012: Chris Hoyle
Challenging Traditional Journeys The view from Townhill Campus is unmatched. The iconic seascape of the bay sweeps below Swansea’s highest Metropolitan campus above sea level. The city sprawls beneath; your eye is drawn to the Mumbles pier and the lighthouse. From here you can gauge the life of the distant blue as it daubs a white collar around the base of the island. As I take in this panorama my imagination is drawn to the bays beyond, golden swathes stroked, at rocky intervals, around the shores of the Gower peninsula … Oxwich, Port Eynon, Rhossili. My thoughts lead me into the building in front of me. I climb a few steel steps and those names are repeated on the doors of rooms I pass. Entering the Port Eynon Board Room, I’m acknowledged by the team from the Centre for Contemporary Performance Practices who are in busy conversation. There’s a sense of a flow of excitement, of one meeting following into another and it feels as if that might have been happening all day, everything inextricably linked, staff joining for one meeting and staying for the next: year-end assessment, community, programme validation, branding, marketing, course development. Lucy Beddall, Community Engagement Coordinator, is at the centre of the discussion. Lucy seems to be trying to leave, realising it’s getting late, but every comment she leaves behind is loaded with achievements and also tinged with greater future potential and she’s raising everyone’s energy levels again. She brushes past me with a smile and in her wake is Jason Benson, slim, neat and in charge. He encourages me to join the group and introduces Martin, Jon and Sarah. Jason seems to absorb the obvious creative energy in the room around him and instil it in himself with a quiet intensity. The assembled staff greet me chattily and immediately relax me, making me a part of the thread that connects the activity that has gone before during this day and that will continue after I leave. Jason has a mantra, one with which he attracts students, welcomes them and guides them: Challenge, Explore, Create. I think this is the thread I’ve identified - it’s a philosophy that underpins the Centre; it’s the driver for staff, it’s an ideology for students, it’s a logo, a brand and it defines the department’s community engagement too. It is also the perfect tool for Jason to break down for me his interpretation of performance. Contemporary practice, undeniably, has to place performance in a 21st century context. Swansea has very recently been shortlisted for the 2017 UK City of Culture and forms the perfect metropolitan setting for a programme that draws on a diverse range of cultural interests. The city itself acts as an alternative space to the studio, allowing the process of creative enquiry to shift sinuously between spaces. The first act within that process of enquiry is to challenge. Students are meant to challenge their own preconceptions, encouraged to challenge conventions and their own interpretation of what is performance. How can they apply that understanding to different aspects of their lives? When watching football or rugby matches, for example, students may be asked to consider where the performance is and how it can be analysed in terms of tribalism or feminism. Exploration is particularly exploration of unknown territory. That which is unknown by the students about themselves is something that is integral to the exploration, at the same time as considering what is unknown about the subject matter they are processing. Collaboration with other practitioners from other schools of artistic disciplines has always been encouraged. Now, more than ever, Jason can see potential for hybrid work and further dynamic departures within the context of considering education outdoors.
Working alongside professional performers and practitioners and gaining industry experience are both key to maintaining relevance in the evolution of creative process to creative product. Jay Shewry, a second year student, last year toured with No Fit State Circus’ production of Barricade and the ongoing Unknown Pleasures is a recurring project, Jason explains, that was initiated by Volcano Theatre when they were artists-in-residence at the University. The creation of an artistic output may be as a result of solo practice or working in small research groups. The process is made distinctive by a very particular balance between an inherently collaborative approach and emphasis on the creative integrity of the individual. The consequences are live art performances that unsettle perception in a manner that echoes the beginning of the journey. There is a continuity of which I am becoming very aware. The three words challenge, explore and create combine to form a very strong identity for the centre but each can also be a link to other aspects of the University’s portfolio. It’s clear that the ambition for graduates from the centre is, in part, to produce multiple-skilled arts creators, but also to develop articulate multidisciplinary individuals with a greater knowledge and understanding of themselves and their relationships with others, forged within the fire of contemporary performance.
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Dancing between the Posts
The line between Carmarthen and Llanelli provides one of the most beautiful train journeys in Wales. When travelling into the West there is no more impressive sight than when the train sounds its horn and rounds the bend, exposing the full glory of the Tywi estuary: Llansteffan Castle proud on the Western headland dominating Carmarthen Bay. Flanked by the villages of Llansteffan and Ferryside, the Tywi is one of three rivers that flow into the bay, the others being the Taf at Laugharne and the Gwendraeth at Kidwelly.
Sarah and Nikki feel that what they offer their students is the provision of a platform to showcase their abilities to share and invite constructive criticism. “Students need to be open to external influences to improve their personal performance,” declares Nikki.
When travelling from Carmarthen toward the East, the line offers views flooded with beauty and intimacy as it flirts for eight miles with the meandering curves of the river before reaching its maturity at the bay’s coastline. In either direction, the journey between Ferryside and Llanelli offers the traveller an intense liaison with the sea. At high tide it feels as if the train is riding on the water and if the tide is rough then the crashing waves leave foam on the windows as they lick at the carriages. Built on the coastal lowland shared by the Great Western Line, the Graig campus in Llanelli offers an abundant sense of openness. The adjacent playing fields create a space that is mirrored in the sprawling main building. Two professional women are based here, Nikki Neale and Sarah Hopkins, clearly on top of their game and exhibiting an effervescence and curiosity for exploring new ideas that suggests the location is a metaphor for their own open-mindedness. The diversity of the courses across the Faculty is an experience they enjoy every day and in their conversation they somehow compete with and complement each other in their efforts to paint the whole picture. The Department of Creative Industries, Sport, Leisure and Tourism at Coleg Sir Gar encompasses a wide range of higher educational experience; of interest to me are the Dance and Sports degrees. Sarah and Nikki use very similar language, phrases such as “broad church”, “in a wider sense”, “broad brush strokes”, “across the board”. These all reflect not just a multidisciplinary responsibility, but also an ethos that is very receptive. Performance is considered in terms both of creative and physical processes; training and developing skills and skill application are common elements of those processes that enable students to perform to the best of their abilities.
As the momentum of the conversation builds, I am aware that this reflects the nature of practice. Before any performance is public, within whatever discipline, it has to be ready and there must always be a quality benchmark. Very high performance values are in evidence at the major Dance event at Llanelli’s Y Ffwrnes theatre. The College’s Sports Academies are devoted to elite training and the Rugby Academy, for example, has a very high profile where there is a huge success rate of students moving into professional sports. The Scarlets squad, the Welsh squad and even the British Lions feature Academy students; ten of the Scarlets’ under-21s team members came through the Academy. In addition, Sion Bennett, Aled Davies, Gareth Davies, George Earle, Samson Lee, Nick Reynolds, Kirby Myhill, Steven Shingler, Rob McCusker, Gareth Thomas, Samson Lee, Josh Turnbull, Adam Warren, Aaron Warren, Jordan Williams and Scott Williams are all current members of the senior Scarlets squad that have come through the Rugby Academy. Both men’s and women’s under-19s teams won the British Colleges Cup in 2013. The link with professional rugby is a two-way street: International players who have come to Llanelli to develop their professional careers also continue their higher education in Carmarthenshire. The references to elite performance within sport and dance have a great relevance for the future. The new BA in Dance is groundbreaking. It is symbolic of a true marriage between the creative and physical processes and also between three schools within the Faculty: a blending of performing arts and sport. Perhaps even more unique is the depth of collaboration between the University’s further and higher education partners in the creation and delivery of this degree. Through interview and personal stories I am exploring the nature of a Faculty of Performance. Of course I am aware of the wider University - this transformed university that serves the region in which I have visited different campuses. But I think it is in talking to these individuals in Llanelli that I have discovered the real meaning of dual-sector education.
sidered n o c is e anc and e iv t a Perform e r of both c s m r e t in ocesses r p l a ic s phy
Making Your Voice heard in a Changing World The School of Performing Arts has recently moved home, only from one part of a very compact Carmarthen campus to another, but it was a move. However, the staff and students have settled very quickly. Settled is not quite the right word. Wherever they are, there is an odd sense of homeliness and occupation, yet all the doors are open and there’s constant movement, ongoing actions and reactions. It’s well before nine o’clock but Mark moves me smartly out of his office as soon as I arrive. “We’re not going to get any peace here,” he says, and we slip off past the Students’ Union towards a nearby empty classroom tucked underneath the Parry Theatre. As we leave, I feel like we’re stepping over interweaving trails of costume design, set building and academic detritus. Mark is big man. A tall, broad, bearded mid-American, he has an unconscious talent for projection of his own image and his ideas. He looks at me with a very personal engagement and starts his sentence in typically modest fashion; with a sigh he breathes out “ohmigosh”, but as soon as he starts to address me he could be commanding the attention of an entire auditorium. He talks in a very deep and personal way about performance, referencing his own upbringing and parents. It could be a belief system and Mark explains his creed.
Mark is convinced everyone has their own unique voice and it is through finding that voice that they become whole members of society. If an individual is unable to find their voice then they will struggle to process their environment in a way that fully allows them to understand their own place in that society and therefore are comfortable with the contribution they make to it. There exists a huge array of tools that people can access to help them discover this voice. Unfortunately, the way society is structured often disables people from accessing the tools required to find the inner voice. Society regularly imposes a hierarchy on the perceived value of those different sets of tools and the people who are guides on the journey of development, parents and teachers, are only able to share the knowledge of the tools with which they themselves are equipped. Mark recalls how he felt as an adolescent, “I have all these ideas and thoughts and I don’t know what to do with them. Maths isn’t helping and geography isn’t helping, I think they’re important but they’re not helping. Words help. Expression helps. Drawing helps. So what do I do with that?” Performance, then, to Mark, is ensuring that students have access to as full a range of tools as possible and that the tools available through the arts are given the true value and credibility they deserve. The people who find their voice through using tools that society often considers as options or luxuries must have their contribution to society validated. The tools they are using are essential. Mark asks questions of his students, “Where am I at right now? Where am I going? What’s it all about? And how do I get together with some other people to try and answer those questions?” As the students go through the processes that enable them to answer those questions collaboratively, they produce a creative output that enables them to communicate, to create debate, to create art, addressing concerns that are personal and immediate or in the future and wider reaching: “I’m hungry. I’m lonely. What will the world be like for my children? What is happening in Syria?” Performance through theatre provides both a process and a platform and Mark is passionate about students taking control of, and responsibility for, their own performances. “If you have gathered people together in a room for an hour-and-a-half and they are paying to be there then you have a responsibility to do something important.” He continues, “You’d better mean it! You can entertain them, sure, but you need to understand why it’s important for them to be there and what you are trying to do with your voice at that moment.” You don’t come to study something because you know all about it, you study something because you have questions about it, so bring your questions and we’ll perform, we’ll make stuff. “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, it is a fire to be kindled,” is a quote from the Greek philosopher Plutarch that really inspires Mark’s approach. This, combined with Ray Bradbury’s famous advice: “You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down”, really sums up the School of Performing Arts. The School is constantly encouraging students to step into the unknown, engage in their own unexplored artistic endeavours, secure in the knowledge that there will always be staff monitoring their cliff jumping and they will never be in danger: there will always be someone there to step in and help. As they land safely, they will meet an audience waiting to see something. Mark won’t give an artistic judgement of his students’ work; what he does is ask them to make an artistic judgement so that he can question and help them to understand the theory and the practice of how they got there.
The balance of theory and practice is essential and the practice will always be in a collaborative context, the performing arts will always be about a community engagement. “When you work in the arts,” says Mark, “you sometimes forget that other people don’t work collaboratively all the time.” Sharing ideas and the compulsion to share is an integral part of working in the performing arts and that encourages people to test their ideas and it doesn’t matter whether it “works” or not, being inventive and innovative was a success in itself. The entire third year is totally performance oriented (where performance means productions) and this suite of productions is a unique aspect of the courses at Carmarthen. Mark’s greatest personal measure of success is the effectiveness of collaboration and when he observes students struggling to achieve what they have set out to do, he is always impressed by the sense of empowerment that offers the student. The site-specific theatre productions have a personal attraction for Mark because he sees his students taking the opportunity to use theatre to provide the tools for new and varied communities to discover new voices; giving them the ability to tell their own stories. Projects with multiple partners and in places where people think performance isn’t possible excite Mark. Being not only prepared but also eager to enter the unknown, then, is one of the greatest attributes of the graduates of performing arts. What I’m hearing from Mark allows me to understand why the course is so different every year. Its content is so dependent upon the minds and the imaginations of the student cohort and because of the immediacy of the reaction of the courses to an ever-changing world, is constantly relevant. While I’m considering this, Mark has started talking about that world. The only constant is change, our children cannot expect to have a job for life, where seven or eight jobs in a career is quite normal and even having more than one job at a time is not unusual. The School of Performing Arts has been producing versatile graduates who are fully equipped to adjust and adapt to that fluid world of employment and business for more than a decade. “If the outcome after three years is intended to be employment,” Mark asserts, “then the learning experience cannot be isolated from the industry, it has to accurately mirror the industry.” The staff who teach students are themselves professional practitioners, they are working in the industry and the School has persuaded them to spend time out of their busy schedules, 3, 6, 18, 30 hours a week during rehearsals. Peter Doran, for example, Artistic Director at the Torch Theatre. He and others are actively engaged with the industry. This contact is an incredible opportunity for students, but Mark reaffirms that it is more than that. It is essential because the staff need to be doing these things now, they need to have real contacts with arts accountants, directors and Equity, because students have real questions about headshots, tax and personal marketing, for example. “That is what employability means,” pronounces Mark, “not working forwards through three years to a known position, but working backwards from a point three years ahead, when the graduate will face an unknown future, will have to make choices, but will be prepared for that moment.” The programmes within the School have been going through the same process for the past decade. Just as he expects of his students, they have been changing and adapting to the world in which we live, without losing sight of that employment focus. Mark concludes: “I will make sure that the students who study here know how to adapt and change to a world that we haven’t experienced yet, that is my commitment.”
Sometimes I forget that other people don’t work collaboratively all the time Mark Kelley
Stepping Stones and Climbing Mountains I’ve heard that Andy Williams is looking for a round table, larger than the one he already owns. I’m not sure where I’ve heard this but I’ve recently recovered an old classroom-style table which I’m using as a writing desk in my garage and it came with a fellow “round table”. So I disassemble this and place it in the back of the car with my cordless drill and go to meet Andy. Andy’s office is on the top floor of a building with an extremely steep staircase, somewhat appropriate I muse (probably not the first to do so) for The School of Health, Sport and Outdoor Education. Andy’s expecting me and minutes later we are putting the table back together in the car park, before carrying it back up that intimidating flight. The top floor has a suite of offices occupied by staff whose hearts are out on the playing field, the cycling track or clinging to a rock face in a wild landscape. To help cope with their “pseudo internment”, they engage in “desk envy”. So my greeting gift is effective. Dr Andy Williams is the Assistant Dean and has a particular disciplinary interest in learning outdoors and adventure education. He is the programme director for MA and BA Outdoor Education. The MA programme is one of only three in the UK and unique in its provision. As a result of combining distance learning and weekend delivery, claims Andy, the programme recruits internationally and from a hugely diverse market: teachers, youth workers, people from the public sector and charitable organisations. Physically, Andy looks solid, reliable and able to take care of himself. I’ve passed him on early misty morning drives between the Lampeter and Carmarthen campuses, out running on the country lanes near Bronwydd and he speaks with the quiet selfassured tones I’d expect. He starts to explain the ethos of the BA programme to me, helping students become aware of the value of learning outdoors, identifying what is specific about the
outdoors, and how it is different from learning in conventional settings, how to explore different approaches to experientially focused learning. The emphasis is on the reflection upon those learning experiences, and in particular a learning that emerges from an understanding of their own experiences. The understanding Andy speaks of is within the context of an associated process of exploration: an exploration of environmental relationships; exploration of social history and how individuals have connected with their landscape and exploration of how sustainable outdoor practitioners need to become, in order to support broader national and international agendas. Andy defines performance as the complete and holistic engagement of an individual to achieve, to the best of their ability, in a task of their choosing. This involves physical, social and intellectual dimensions. This allows a continuum of performance to be achieved, elite performance being one point upon that continuum. Andy is equally committed to awareness that those who achieve physically at a lower point comparatively are still performers. We talk briefly about elite performance and Andy makes a brief social analysis of sport, one that I will return to later, but inclusivity is unshakeably the concept upon which Andy is concentrating. He affirms: “Students need to develop an awareness and celebration of performance of others at different levels of physical achievement from their own.” A stepping-stone in a career development is how Andy describes the undergraduate course. This sounds almost belittling of the programme, but I’ve noticed hidden playfulness in Andy and a twinkle in his eye suggests that he has more to say on this subject. I am sure that stepping stone is about to become a rock of foundation. Competent, reflective, informed and knowledgeable practitioners who can take their place in the outdoor sector, is the aspiration that strengthens one course module in particular. Undergraduates have to organise, deliver and reflect upon their own five-day outdoor expedition. They have to develop an idea and then recruit expedition members from the general student cohort. They have to consider whether they are they going to develop technical outdoor skills. Are they seeking to be more informed about a particular environmental issue? Are they going to consider a range of different aspects of learning outdoors? They have to decide upon objectives and then match those with the needs and abilities of the students who are the expedition members. They have to prepare the students with knowledge and understanding, as well as make a reconnaissance of the venue to assess any risks or hazards and then they have to undertake the expedition – this is the real focus of a future outdoor practitioner. How do the leaders deal with situations they encounter? Sickness or injury, for example, do they stay with the student or do they have them taken away, or do they change the focus of the expedition to take account of the injured participant? How do they cope with sudden changes in weather conditions? They have to react positively to each and every scenario. They cannot avoid the consequences of their actions. They learn how dynamic and creative they have to be to resolve problems and that is why the expedition is the single most successful performance facilitated for a student every year. Expedition leaders have to work within their own comfort zone because they have to help and support others who are operating outside of theirs. There is self-exploration into the ability to lead: What is my skill set? What are my passions? The students’ questioning and aspiration is unlimited. Andy recalls very ambitious expeditions that needed discussion and rationalisation. Each expedition is supported and approved by a member of staff and they are often international in outlook across the UK and Europe. The performance continuum is exhibited through practice: one expedition may be canoeing down the
River Wye at a lower level of technical ability, while another entails sea-kayaking around the Welsh coast at a much higher level of ability but still within the capabilities of the expedition leader. The Llandysul Paddlers is a local outdoor business, and the context of watersports-based expeditions leads the conversation to their involvement in the programme. Every year they provide 6 or 12-month work placements to successful graduates and this reinforces Andy’s concept of career progression. Whether it is teaching practice while progressing from under-grad to post-grad education, entry to the uniformed services or following a prolific self-employment route, the intrinsic emphasis within outdoor education upon leadership and responsibility is widely useful. There are additional vocational qualifications that graduates can pursue while undertaking their degree too. The work that students do in safety and technical skills while working with the Prince’s Trust Fairbridge programme or with the National Trust can lead to national governing body awards for which the University is accredited. So there is a clear industry alignment, but always underscored by reflection and evaluation that ensure a whole academic process. This talk of employment is inspiring Andy to discuss wider fields. There are processes in operation to consider the future aspirations of employers, conversations with local employers about sustainably literate graduates. Sustainability, environmental, social or economic, is driving all political and economic decisionmaking on national and international agendas, claims Andy. The University is leading in this field. As a small but very practical and relevant example he cites a recent expedition. The University purchased trailers that are drawn by mountain bikes, because of this mountain biking expeditions can be organised that require no support from a motorised vehicle, the expeditions are selfcontained with very low environmental impact. It’s all about the environment, of course it is, and I can feel Andy’s sense of triumph as he closes our conversation with references to the location of the campus and the Welsh countryside. “Nowhere in the UK are outdoor Higher Education programmes being delivered within such proximity to the sea, rivers, mountains and forests … Carmarthenshire, West Wales is unique.”
Exercise and Excellence
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A few days later and I find myself back in the building that is the home of The School of Sport, Health and Outdoor Education. I am meeting Peter Herbert who lectures in Physical Education. I don’t have to climb the stairs this time as it’s a ground floor meeting. I find Peter in a little den: cwtch dan star, the cupboard under the stairs. There’s no room to sit and talk, so Peter leads me through into the adjacent room. Here are three very technically advanced exercise cycles, all connected to equipment that looks as though it could measure every conceivable physiological change in the human body. We pull up two stools at the edge of the room. Motivated by some of the references in my conversation with Andy Williams, I’m hoping to talk to Peter about different approaches to practice and community engagement. Instead, he opens our exchange with reference to academic papers and the Welsh countryside; I get a little déjà vu.
About 18 months ago Peter wrote a research paper on the disadvantages suffered by rural communities in accessing facilities for exercise, training and acquisition of fitness, because many small communities are 10 miles or more from the nearest leisure centre, for example. Membership costs, as well as the investment in time and money to travel to facilities, were common barriers. Peter was aware of several projects in East Anglia that had involved mobile fitness units being taken into small villages, but in his paper he suggested the possibility of more permanent alternatives.
Carmarthenshire County Council became interested in Peter’s ideas and in collaboration with the University’s Research and Development Unit, £20,000 European funding was accessed to supply equipment to a village in Carmarthenshire as part of a three-month trial project. It transpires that Peter had considered my home village of Ferryside, but in the end decided to work with the local community in Llansteffan, the village on the opposite bank across the Tywi estuary. Peter selected the equipment to be provided and under his direction, three third-year students of the Health, Exercise and Sport course, who had already achieved vocational qualifications in instructing and supervising fitness training, led the project. The students developed a plan that included a timetable, marketing strategy and a structure that incorporated a commitment to ensure that every individual who expressed any interest in participating underwent a formal induction The project had a kick-start - in the local cricket pavilion there was a 1940s exercise bike and two regular users. By the end of the trial period there were 45 regular participants who had signed up to a year’s membership, generating a new income strand for the community. Two local people are taking over the students’ roles and, funded by the project, through the University, are taking their own Level 2 Gym Instructor Awards accredited by the Wright Foundation. The greatest success that the students feel, Peter tells me, is that they have changed attitudes, not just to health and fitness and the gym, but to the awareness the local people have of the beauty of their landscape and the many walking paths around. There is a real growth of a holistic exercise-related ethic, a successful performance.
Peter rows regularly and is also a competitive track cyclist in velodromes around the UK. He competes in various Masters’ competitions as a sprinter and is in his second year of international competition. In his first year he won a bronze medal in the British Masters, this year was fifth in the World Championship and just two weeks ago won a silver medal in the European Masters’ competing against Olympian Geoff Cooke. It takes time for me to draw admission of these accomplishments out of Peter and he is eager to mention the achievements of fellow staff, Head of School Ceredig Emanuel, for example, regularly represents Wales in the Four Nations Masters’ competitions at Squash. The level of professional practice among staff in the school is unquestionably excellent and I push Peter to ponder how that impacts directly upon the performance levels of students. Peter contemplates and then suggests that there may be two kinds of students who enrol upon the sports-related courses: those who are interested in healthy lifestyle rather than fitness and are not performers within the context of competitive success, and those who are more performance-oriented and who become very directly motivated by the expertise and passion of the staff.
Nowhere in the UK are outdoor higher education programmes being delivered within such proximity to the sea, rivers, mountains and forests … Carmarthenshire, West Wales is unique. Andy Williams
Cherry picking apples With a couple of cups of coffee and losing myself in words as I tap away on the iPad, it seems like a very short journey from West Wales to the nation’s capital city. The sun is shining - when has it not been this summer? - and the sun makes me happy. As the window scenes start to decelerate and the views come into clearer focus I can’t help but smile at the familiar icons in this young city - The Millennium Stadium, The Norwegian Church, The Senedd, The Millennium Centre. There are little pulses of pride and excitement and I’m not sure what’s generating them, the light on landmarks or my own hwyl. I’ve brought my bicycle on the train, so traversing the city is a brief task. Just a few minutes later I’ve headed across the busy Newport Road and turned down a quiet leafy street, where I’ve found the Cardiff campus of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. I have to press a buzzer to hear Euros Rhys Evans’ emphatic welcome, I push the door and enter a large entrance hall with an impressive staircase and I’m here at The Wales International Academy of Voice. It’s a large Victorian house, decorated with posters and ornaments from the world of opera and it feels like a family home for a very special family. I can hear singing from upstairs, voices that inspire. Euros exudes warmth and charm, everything is relaxed and nothing too much trouble, just easy. Dennis O’Neill enters the reception area to invite me to join him and something changes, I still feel welcomed and comfortable, but am aware of his presence, a benevolent patriarch. I’ve met Dennis once before and I know of him. Dennis O’Neill is one of the world’s leading operatic tenors specialising in Verdi, he has been awarded the 2005 Verdi Medal by the Amici de Verdi and has been honoured with a CBE for his services to opera. Dennis has a full-blooded repertoire, has sung with all the world’s greatest companies and has worked extensively with Opera Houses across Europe. Dennis has recorded prolifically and has performed in concerts before members of the Royal families of Sweden, the United Kingdom, Norway, Spain and for the late Pontiff, John Paul the Second. Awe and greatness are words floating very close to the front of my mind. Dennis settles me into a wicker chair with another coffee; Cardiff is becoming a very caffeine-fuelled capital for me today. He begins to tell me about the origins of WIAV and, as expected of a man with such an illustrious career, the idea was forged within the industry. The concept was born while Dennis was working as a full-time opera singer, which he has done since he was 21. “So I was among the middle group,” he chuckles, “mature, before I became described as a veteran tenor.” It was at this point in a very successful career that Dennis became aware of how the industry has changed; in many ways for the better, but also how it creates stress for young people attempting to achieve everything in such a short space of time. There is pressure to sing the great roles in your early 20s, being a “popular” singer is what the industry now requires.
These changes cannot be reversed but must be accepted. What Dennis seeks to do is protect young singers who are being pushed too quickly. Dennis is very aware of the impact of these industry changes upon the great established Academies; that they were being forced into structural expectations that were too broad to teach singers. He explains that if a pianist were to be accepted at a really good college then there would be an expectation of a very good performing technique; by which he means that they could really play the notes rather well. Sometimes singers are being accepted on the quality of their voice alone and that really is not the most important issue for continued excellence as an operatic singer. So what are the issues to consider? Dramatic excellence has a much higher emphasis and that is very positive in terms of providing the public with a whole and complete performance. However, Dennis has identified, perhaps, deterioration in musicality and technique. Dennis explains musicality as the way of expressing what the composer wants to achieve. This, he feels, is an attribute with which one is born, but it can be enhanced because singers can learn from their peers. This, and vocalisation (that is, the production of the sound - the physiological technique), these are the aspects he wishes to focus upon. WIAV is not in competition with the other great schools; it is not an opera school but a singing school, albeit a specialised one. WIAV is devoted to improving vocal technique, with the aim of protecting its graduates as they enter the profession, ensuring their voices do not get damaged, “that they know how to use the equipment safely” and helping them identify a real instinct for the various styles of the full spectrum of composers. The MA in Advanced Vocal Studies is a unique programme of study and training within the sector. Having explained the ethos of the Academy to me, Dennis very quickly moves on to talk about the nature of recruitment and the student cohort. Dennis’ ambition is to keep the Academy small and international. He clarifies the process and the rationale and it is a delicate balance. His first real criterion is an ego. Performing artists have to have a temperamental drive; an insatiable desire to perform is critical, and far more important than ambition for fame and fortune, which invariably leads to short careers. This, Dennis has to balance with other character traits that will make them part of a team, a team of 10 to 20 people who will share a space. That space Dennis finally describes not as a home but a nest. Very lightly, Dennis makes reference to the importance of the quality of the classes and, in quite an off-hand way, he mentions that as a result of his career he has a very good address book to which he can refer for knowledge and experience. This throwaway reference to a collection of some of the world’s greatest operatic performers at once sums up the modesty of Dennis O’Neill and the huge credibility of the Academy in an international arena. This is a crucial point and it is only on re-examination of my notes that I discover this amazing moment that defines the identity of WIAV, its kudos and standing but also its humility and integrity. I suggest to Dennis that I think I have understood his interpretation of successful performance and that it is closely tied to technique and longevity of career. Again he chuckles and assures me the former will ensure the latter. But the longevity of Dennis’ career has an intrinsic impact upon the teaching at WIAV. Dennis tells me of his own experience as a young man working at Covent Garden as understudy to some of the world’s greatest tenors. He would listen to pieces performed in rehearsal to which he knew every word, every note, but then suddenly the performer would do something just spectacular and he would have no idea how that singer had achieved it. So he would listen again and again to rehearsals and recordings, talk to them, seek out their knowledge and their skills. “Picking apples from different trees to fill your basket,” is how Dennis describes this process.
It is never the voice that is important, but what you are able to do with it; these are words that the great Italian tenor Carlo Begonzi imparted to Dennis and they have stuck with him. Dennis no longer considers himself physically able to undertake the great operatic roles, although at 66 he still performs in concerts and is preparing for a solo recital at the Wigmore Hall in London. This is because, he claims, his voice responds well to what he does, like an athlete it grows stronger through practice rather than tiring or weakening. I believe Dennis is capable of communicating these abilities, in the same way that Dennis believes he has been able to distil the experience of a 40-year career into a method of teaching that allows him to share that personal experience. This is not in a way that supplants the students’ own need to learn from their peers, but enhances it. “We are not here to teach you but to show you how to teach yourself.” Students sometimes arrive with particular problems, stylistic or technical that they hope to solve during their year’s study. Dennis calculates that perhaps half of these are resolved. Perhaps more importantly there is an awakening to an approach that will enable resolution to be found perhaps two years later - two years into their professional careers. It is a scientific fact that the voice continues to change but graduates will have learned how to adapt their control mechanisms to cope with the change.
Sian Cameron, Carmen:
Dennis is not a man who stands still. He constantly reviews the aspirations of the Academy and how it may be expanded, but he will never compromise the one-to-one tuition that he and colleagues, such as the Italian soprano Nuccia Focile, are able to offer students. Dennis is keen to qualify the idea of team as applying not just to students but also to staff. The use of the word team implies an inclusivity that has been obvious in many of the interviews I’ve conducted over the summer. Although the word elite sits uncomfortably with Dennis, it is clear that these teams comprise elite performers, in the sense that they are, and will be, performers at the highest level on an international stage. The list of staff and the list of graduates are extensive and it is not long before the reputation connected to each name becomes interchangeable - Kiri Te Kanawa, Dennis O’Neill, Julia Lezhneva. Dennis gives me a wonderful quotation to close our tête-à-tête: “It was nice to be famous but I’m not looking for that anymore. I’m not trying to change the world but I hope WIAV will change a few lives and I think it already has.” After saying my goodbyes, I unchain my cycle from the lamppost outside WIAV and head off to meet a friend in Cardiff Bay, for yet more coffee. I pull up in front of the imposing façade of the Millennium Centre. It was part of my vision of the iconic cityscape of Cardiff as the train had pulled in hours before. I am minded of the partnership WIAV has with this impressive venue: the Academy holds an annual gala concert at this site. Dennis was always keen to find a home for his International Academy in Wales rather than accept invitations to create it in London, and being here today allows me to appreciate, yes, that a few lives have been transformed and audiences transfixed.
Elite performance of national and international significance MA Advanced Vocal Studies
BA Musical Performance BA Perfformio Cerddorol
BA Acting BA Theatre Design and Production
Integrated activities linking health and performance Arts based performance activities
BA Y Cyffryngau Creadigol BA Perfformio BA Performing Arts (Contemporary Performance)
BA Applied Drama BA Technical Theatre
MA Outdoor Education
nce he Excelle
Continuum BSc Sports Coaching and Performance BA Outdoor Education BA Physical Education
Sports based performance activities
Physical f o m u u in The Cont e processes ativ and Cre
BA Health & Exercise and Sport Studies BA Personal Training (Health & Exercise) BSc Sport Therapy BSc Health, Nutrition and Lifestyle
BSc Animal Behaviour and Welfare
Community engagement in performance activities