Changing the Landscape of Theater Education: Pig Iron Theater and UArts

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Pig Iron Theater

February 13, 2015; Philadelphia Magazine

Breaking the fourth wall in theater education, the University of the Arts’ Ira Brind School of Theater Arts will bring avant-garde theater inside the ivory tower. Beginning this fall, the university’s faculty will work side-by-side with company members of Philadelphia’s Pig Iron Theatre to challenge and train graduate students to push traditional boundaries in performance to hone a new generation of “theatrical innovators.”

The partnership will create two new degrees at the University of the Arts: a Master of Fine Arts and a Certificate in “Pig Iron School’s Devised Performance program.” Poised to “change the landscape of theater education,” according to Broadway World, the MFA and Certificate programs will be under the direction of Pig Iron’s cofounder Gabriel Quinn Bauriedel, within the UArts Ira Brind School of Theater Arts led by Joanna Settle.

“This partnership breaks down the traditional boundaries of a theater education to create a program that is adept at serving the current landscape of performance,” said Settle, director of the Ira Brind School. Students will train alongside award-winning faculty, who are artistic practitioners and educators.

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Settle believes devised performance represents the future of theater. Devised theater has been gaining momentum globally. It draws “from the collective inspiration of the group, not from a script written by a singular playwright, and performances are not confined by the boundaries of the stage, but often occur in found or public spaces.”

“If you’re a theater student or professional theater practitioner, this is pretty big news,” reported Philadelphia Magazine. “From an artistic standpoint, the new program is a win-win: Pig Iron’s current program will be accentuated by professors and additional coursework at UArts.” As Bauriedel told Philadelphia:

“We are thrilled about this partnership because the curriculum as we’ve designed it and as we’ve taught it will remain intact. The core of the program is the same and the faculty will not change. Now, students who want to earn an MFA will spend 2 years in the studio with the certificate students, training to become theatre practitioners. MFA students will take additional courses at UArts: they’ll study visual art practice and music theory; they’ll learn an instrument and will study theatre pedagogy. MFA students will also stay for an additional semester (making the MFA a 2.5 year or 5 semester program), during which time they’ll stretch their learning toward full-length original works, site-specific pieces, [and] collaborations with visual artists, composers and choreographers. They will also have the opportunity to partner with a community organization to test the meaning of devised performance beyond the conventional spectator/performer relationship.”

Founded in 1995, Pig Iron Theatre Company has been lauded internationally. The New York Times called them “one of the few groups successfully taking theater in new directions.” In 2011, the ensemble created their diploma program, Pig Iron School for Advanced Performance Training. The program trains artists in physical theater rooted in Lecoq pedagogy and ensemble theater practice.

Established in 1876, the University of the Arts is one of the only U.S. universities dedicated solely to educating students in the visual and performing arts, design and writing. In January 2014, noted director Joanna Settle was brought in to lead the Brind School, and the program has evolved quickly under her leadership.—Susan Raab