Forging our artistic future: UniSA Creative Festival

Live performance is a pivotal part of the creative industries and is taught as such at UniSA, with events such as their upcoming Creative Festival going ahead. (Image source: University of South Australia)

By Helen Karakulak | @Helen_Karakulak

In a year of uncertainty, UniSA students showcase the value of practical learning opportunities to professionally develop as artists in the upcoming UniSA Creative Festival.

The UniSA Creative Festival showcases the work done by students undertaking music production, digital performance and world music theatre courses at UniSA, across a series of live events held at UniSA’s Magill campus this month.

The festival begins this Saturday November 7 with ‘To a Degree’ launch party held in the D1-20 auditorium. This is followed by a campus-wide multimedia showcase of  ‘EX[tension]’ commencing in the Hartley Playhouse on 11 November. The final event, ‘More of Us’ will close the festival with musical theatre performances in Hartley Playhouse on November 13.

Such events reflect the benefits of tertiary education centred in industry outcomes, arming students with the ability to adapt their professional practice to thrive in an uncertain graduate landscape.   

Pursuing performing arts courses seemed more promising than ever pre-COVID-19, with the Australian creative industries thriving as a sector flagged for growth.

In 2018, the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Digital Media Research Centre reported that creative employment was growing at nearly twice the rate of the Australian workforce.

The Australian Culture and Related Industries Industry Reference Committee (IRC) reported a projected increase of approximately 5700 employees in creative and performing arts between 2019 and 2024. 

But with 2020’s fickle protagonist, COVID-19, taking the stage, it seemed like these promising statistics and survey insights were reduced to understudies patiently waiting to show us what they can do (while praying for the lead to take a nasty fall). 

Despite COVID-19’s undeniable influence, the team at UniSA’s commitment to producing industry-ready professionals hasn’t faltered, comforting their students that are on the right path to fulfil pre-COVID projections.

24-year-old UniSA performing arts student, Caleb Knoll, believes the continuous practical element of performing arts courses are crucial.

“Working towards an industry performance is a huge deal because you’re not only making connections with people that might see the show, you get an experience of what it’s actually going to be like … that in-depth look is amazing,” he said.

Performing arts lecturer, Dr Nat Texler, focuses heavily on integrating industry outcomes in her classroom, ensuring graduates are capable of working towards projects such as independently produced theatre events or live music productions.

“We allow [our students] to make mistakes here in a safe environment and encourage them to push forward into the performing arts industry as strong creatives with an array of skills that can be applied anywhere from backstage to front and centre in the spotlights,” Nat said.

Fellow performing arts lecturer and course coordinator, Catherine Campbell, agrees that live performance experience is essential to performing arts teaching.

“The discipline of rehearsing to a standard ready for public performance and learning to ‘bring the goods’ during live performance is the most essential skill for pursuing a professional career,” Catherine said.

“We are so fortunate here at UniSA to have a wonderful theatre and courses which give the students the chance to present their work to a wider public audience,” she said.

These facilities and opportunities provided in the performing arts major are rooted in ‘performance-making’. Although students are given the option to specialise in roles such as performer, director, musician, designer or stage manager, the various live performance skills developed across these roles are essential to keep up with a changing industry landscape. 

“Building confidence through experience in a live theatrical environment, even those with technological outcomes such as digital albums, a streamed service or motion capture, is proving live performance skills never go out of style – they only evolve,” Nat said. 

Learning to evolve as the industry does is a highlight of 20-year-old performing arts student Erin Schuster’s experience. Erin believes live performance opportunities in her studies have largely impacted her professional development, pushing her towards new passions.

“Learning other aspects of performing, doing cabaret or our own songs, they’re areas I hadn’t touched on before and I’ve found passion in a lot of other forms of performing I definitely wouldn’t have before I came to university,” Erin said.

“Especially writing our own songs, it’s something a lot of us have always wanted to do but never had that push to do it, but this course has pushed us and a lot of us, especially myself, discovered a love for writing.”

Overseeing produced outcomes such as music albums or live events allows the teaching team to cultivate a positive environment that values self-discipline and working collaboratively and creatively.

“These are skillsets that any industry needs, especially as we move more and more towards a different style of workforce: one that is mobile and independent of a central column of organisation,” Nat said.

“I am lucky enough to be in the front row when it comes to student skills development, and it is always astounding to see how quickly those skills grow when given the chance to perform in the roles they want at an industry level.”

“Over the last 15 years of teaching here I’ve watched students find their artistic voice … live performance is the reason they are able to find that amazing work within themselves,” Catherine said.

Students Erin and Caleb agree that these skillsets are irreplaceable, pinpointing those they value most. 

“Being in a course where you’re on stage all the time being pushed to perform, stage presence is so important,” Erin said.

“Having the experience putting on live performances is great, but I think the biggest thing it’s taught us is patience, oh so much patience,” Caleb said.

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