Playing to the beat, a play, devising and collective creation in actor training, an exegesis

Author Identifiers

Andrew SMITH


Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA)

First Advisor

Lyndall Adams

Second Advisor

Renee Newman


Actor training in a conservatoire context is a rigorous, immersive and challenging course of study in which students are extended in the core principles of acting, movement and voice. A variety of teaching methods and techniques are used to assist and enable student actors to become accomplished artists. This is mostly achieved by working on existing scripts from the classical and contemporary canon. However, during the last 20 years, there have been significant funding cuts to arts organisations and screen production, so waiting for auditions and work is no longer a realistic option for most young graduates. This research interrogated whether the conservatoire model of actor training can adapt to changing industry demands by introducing devised work into the curriculum.

I adopted an a/r/tographic methodological approach, using the three aspects of my professional identity—artist, researcher and teacher—to create a new theatre work alongside third-year actors, interviewing them over 18 months. This allowed me to use insider knowledge and examine my shifting roles during the creative process while reflecting on approaches to fostering a student-centred learning environment.

I directed this devised theatre work, The Beat Generation, with third-year actors based on the 1950’s anti-authority movement (including performance, poetry and jazz) in a promenade production at the Fremantle Arts Centre, Western Australia, over five nights. The production was recorded and became the central creative component and artefact for my study, which allowed me to examine and reflect on the implications of the devising process. This included examining the learning outcomes and potential pedagogical shifts in the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) BA (Acting) program, to aid in developing an autonomous and resilient actor that may be better prepared for the vagaries of the industry.

My role shifted in the process, and I learned through a/r/tography how to encourage and enable the actors to make their own choices in relation to producing content. It became apparent that students gained a sense of empowerment and confidence by developing their own material and could apply the skills learned in some way during their career.

I realised that embedding systems of devising throughout the training could create many benefits for graduating actors. Through my investigation and interviews with students and leading educators in the field, I assess how and where devising could be most beneficial in a conservatoire training environment. My findings from the research and subsequent recommendations have been developed with the acting program staff at WAAPA. These include a scaffolded approach by: (1) introducing a vocabulary of devising, including lessons on collaborating and work on small studio-based pieces in the first year; (2) collaborating as an ensemble on a movement project and storytelling in the second year; and (3) creating a fully devised work in the students’ third year.

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