5.1 Nigel Hook: Teaching design.
I have been working as a professional set and costume designer in theatre for 25 years as well as teaching on a number of different design and stage management courses around the country. The size of classes has varied with the institution, from as few as 4 students, to classes of upwards of 30 students.
The wide range of subjects has ranged from model making for the theatre to the History of Victorian and Edwardian Stage Machinery. The range of skills that students bring to these lectures is as diverse as the subject matter. This necessitates a number of strategies. The student, for example, who says they do not or cannot draw can be encouraged to use collage of found objects or Photoshop skills to create something of value to the exercise.
What often happens is that the timescale of a practical project is broken up by other classes and thus is spread too thinly through the timetable, not enabling the students to get a good run at the project. At times some students will use this as an excuse simply for not engaging with a project. On the other hand other ‘engaged students’ are almost too motivated (not something I find difficult to deal with).
You should structure your lecture or teaching session with the help of the programme director. They will know of little timetable pitfalls, where the students have to be elsewhere and whether or not you can ask them to do ‘homework’. Depending on the time of year, and if they have other projects to do, these exercises can be tailored to each individual group.
You will know how you wish to put across your subject, in a practical or theoretical way.
Any CD or video equipment can be organised for different rooms depending on availability. These should be organised in advance through the LRC. For more intricate presentations one of the well-equipped lecture rooms can be booked, again in advance, by the programme director. A large range of equipment is available from OHP to lap top computers but it is the responsibility of the lecturer to return these booked items to the LRC.
Rooms should be securely locked when breaking from a session.
The LRC also has other equipment and resources available to students for projects, ranging from digital camera film to balsa wood, anything of a more exotic nature can be negotiated with the programme director. This of course is best done well in advance to avoid any disappointments.
It is also possible to ‘create on the hoof ‘ so to speak and providing you don’t mind getting some things yourself this can also work. It is necessary to talk to Sam Naylor (Director of Productions) or the programme director about the provision of petty cash as there is a fixed system in place for each course.
Printing and photocopying needs can also be organised in advance. The LRC has mono and colour copying available, and this can be charged directly to a programme budget.
It is best, with any project, to negotiate for a pre briefing session with the group providing hand-outs as necessary and making clear the level of preparation each student has to bring to the practical sessions.
It is also useful to see the room that you would be using for your project and negotiate for a change if necessary. Make sure that there are the necessary workspaces for each student in your group and make sure they’re aware of any equipment they have to provide, such as cutting boards scalpel’s, etc.
I find that organising sessions of an individual or group nature during any long teaching session, can alert you to students who are getting lost along the way
Time should also be set aside for any student presentations of work if this is necessary to the project, and it must be made clear to the students just how much time they have for these presentations I find no problem in asking them to organise this for themselves.
Should the project have a group performative result, this should be organised well in advance with your programme director and any technical support should be requested at this early stage (for example, in the case of a production exercise, stage management support).
Some students feel they cannot give a verbal presentation at these sessions but this can be circumvented with the use of assorted methods, which will of course be negotiated with each student. I also find that placing such students in groups that present a common or linked subject can be of great benefit, providing it does not allow the student to sink without trace.
When preparing a group for such exercises I find it a good idea especially amongst first year students, to break up any pre-formed ‘friends’ and any potential problem groups. I tend to try and arrange groups of differing abilities in both intellectual capability and presentation skills.
Any potential problems (particularly student issues) should be discussed immediately with the module tutor and any absences should be reported immediately or during the first break in the session to the relevant Programme Administrator.
Depending on the nature of the project, it is helpful to make early contact with LRC staff, Dave Kerry, the workshop manager, the theatre technicians, Marc Wilson, the ITC manager, and the costume technicians. For communications and general support, make sure that you have a good relationship with Programme Administration.