A scene from BLOK/EKO at the Northcott Theatre, Exeter

Drama shortlisted for Times Higher Education Awards

The partnership between the University of Exeter and a renowned playwright has been shortlisted for a major award.

Now in their 7th year, the Times Higher Education Awards are a highlight of the academic calendar and a glittering celebration of the best of the sector.

A project by the University’s Drama department has been shortlisted in the Excellence and Innovation in the Arts category of the awards.

There are eighteen award categories, which represent an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of UK universities. These high-profile awards seek to reaffirm the UK’s commitment to the two core pursuits of higher education: teaching and research.

In the face of savage cuts to arts funding in the UK, the University of Exeter has forged a multi-layered collaborative partnership with dramatist Howard Barker and his theatre company. Barker’s theatrical work is best known for the beauty of its language and his exploration of themes of violence, sexuality and power. He is also a director, designer, poet and painter. His remarkable creative output faced a premature end when his theatre company, The Wrestling School, became one of the early casualties of Arts Council cuts. Initiatives from members of the University of Exeter, together with an anonymous philanthropist, put together a life-saving package.

Over the past five years this has so far involved a private donation of £240,000 to fund the staging of a three-year cycle of his plays and a worldwide one-day festival of Barker’s work, produced by University of Exeter Drama Lecturer Dr Sarah Goldingay. Barker was also appointed as an honorary Chair in the Drama Department, thereby embedding his work into a dynamic network of researchers, students and the wider artistic community through workshops and lectures. The Drama Department hosted an annual Summer School for professional theatre-makers, students and researcher. A £268,000 Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) grant was secured with the University’s Drama Department for a three-year Creative Fellowship to fund two new plays.

Drama lecturer Dr Sarah Goldingay said:”This collaboration has enabled a unique talent to continue to prosper despite the savage cuts taking place across the arts in the UK. In doing so, Exeter has taken an innovative approach to the challenge of getting experimental playwriting commissioned and performed on stage, and has enabled one of the great artists of a generation to continue to create, to think and to share.”

The University secured a further £39,000 AHRC bid to support the Wrestling School’s staging of the first of these plays, BLOK/EKO, at the Exeter Northcott, in collaboration with  the Drama Department in June 2011. As well as giving Devon audiences the opportunity to see cutting edge international-calibre theatre, the performance also provided five month-long professional student internships and the opportunity for 60 students, staff and community members to collaborate with a first-rate professional company

The results of the THE Awards will be announced on Thursday 24 November at a glittering ceremony at the Grosvenor House Hotel, Park Lane, London.

Date: 24 November 2011

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