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Staff profile: Paul Barrett

Paul Barrett is the Course Director of BA (Hons) Design for Performance: Theatre, Film and Live Events. We caught up with him to find out more about why he thinks it's important to study a degree, why Birmingham is a good place to study and what students can do to help prepare for the course...

Paul primary

Could you tell us about your experience and how this feeds into your course?

I trained originally as a Theatre Designer and then obtained my Master’s degree in Scenography in 1999.  Prior to this I worked as a Stiltwalker at Alton Towers whilst studying at art college and it seemed a natural step to combine my experience of performing with my love of art and design.  Over the years I’ve found that my practice has encompassed a number of different disciplines and for a long time I was concerned that I didn’t easily fit into a particular ‘box’.  It took a while to realise that taking a trans-disciplinary approach to practice was actually a strength rather than a weakness.  I often say to the students on the course that you have the chance to be right at the centre of the ‘Venn Diagram’, exploring the exciting possibilities that occur when different disciplines overlap.

What is the philosophy of your course? 

The course draws upon the traditions and historical context of performance design and contemporary scenography to offer a unique programme of study. Rather than seek to tightly define the parameters of study and practice, the course has been designed to offer a framework within which students choose their own focus and direction in an informed way. There are no specialist routes, instead all students are encouraged to define their place within the performance industry, bending and shaping their degree to fit their aspirations.

If you had to name one thing about your course that makes it distinct, what would it be?

The trans-disciplinary approach provides a variety of opportunities for the students.  Ambition, experimentation and professionalism combine to offer a unique experience.

Why is Birmingham a good place to study?

It’s a centrally located vibrant city with a rich, inclusive community of creative artists. 

Why do you believe it’s important to study a degree and why might students want to study your course?

A degree should be a challenging, transformative experience that ultimately should provide you with the knowledge and skills to develop a successful career after your graduation.  The BA (Hons) Design for Performance course is not taught prior to University level and for many students it’s a revelation that you can study a design course that includes, theatre, film, events, festivals, exhibitions, live arts etc. all in one arena.  It’s an individual and collaborative course and we work with a number of high profile partners that have included, The V&A, Live Nation, Casson Mann and Boomtown Festival.

Where will the students be based in their time here and what will their learning environment be?

Margaret Street and Parkside.

What can students do to help prepare them for the course?

They may not have any prior experience and that’s OK, but they should identify what aspects of the industry interests them.  If it’s festivals then what aspect?  Is it live theatre or the design of their favourite film?  Whatever it is, begin by investigating the designers/artists/companies responsible. In practical terms embrace all aspects of artistic practice from drawing to sculpture, photography through to painting, analogue and digital.  There is no house style so you won’t know what you’ll need.

What’s your favourite element about working at the School of Visual Communication?

It’s a real mixed environment with excellent staff and inventive students who are advocating the importance of the creative arts during this turbulent time.