Saturday 23 March 2013

Noh Drama here, we're MBA students !

As a two times College Teaching prize winner in 2012 Justin O'Brien, MBA Director at Royal Holloway, University of London looks each year to grow and develop his teaching portfolio with new innovations and collaborations.  With a goal to provide at least five "pixie dust" moments (poignant and highly memorable learning experiences) for the prestigious full time MBA programme one of this years innovations was via an enterprising barter based collaboration with  Dr Emma Brodzinski from RHULs highly regarded drama department.


The RHUL Drama department is going through a rather golden period at the moment, benefitting from a stunning refurbishment of the 'old boiler house' theatre space and across the A30 the building of a stunning new and state of the art theatre, to be named after leading English playright, Caryl Churchill, slated to open in Summer 2013.

The MBA group, having attended a Caryl Churchill production at the Royal Court theatre and participated in a get to know each other warm up session, were invited to attend a day long work shop with Dr Emma Brodzinski and professional actor,  Alex Turner, one of the founding members of of non zero one, the RHUL Drama department's resident theatre company 2012/13.  

The group were lead through a variety of exercises to help develop self-awareness and a sense of groupness, that saw many MBA candidates find themselves pushed into their discomfort zones quite quickly.  The approach was drawn from experience of developing a strong group ethos amongst professional drama troupes that demanded extensive use of movement, communications skills and reflection.

One exercise saw the group brain storm a number of different useless objects that they were then asked to go away and prepare a sales pitch for.  One of the ideas that required the use of the improvisation technique was plugging shampoo for bald people.  In addition to the development of creative thinking, students were required to work spontaenously in small groups to deliver an impact presentation of their ideas. 

The brief given to Emma Brodzinski, who designed and delivered this highly innovative workshop with collaboration from Alex Turner, sought to challenge the MBA students in a very different way and push them firmly into their discomfort zones.  Whilst some students struggled to connect with the activities, others found the final afternoons performance aspects a little bit too much out there.  The majority of participants in the whole workshop found it to be a rewarding and enjoyable experience. 

The drama sessions concluded with a performance piece in the Noh Theatre space.  Royal Holloway Drama look after Europes only Japanese Noh theatre (pictured below), a beautifully carved natural and untreated wooden construction, it is considered  by many as a holy space and used to present highly ritualised live performances.  Management students would never normally be provided access to this space

Jessica explained about the drama experience "It gave us the opportunity to experience management theory and practice in a way that was very different from what we've encountered in the classroom so far. It was refreshing to find how dramatic exercises such as developing a mock advert sketch or creating an abstract performance piece based on a work of poetry could be usefully complementary to our course. The workshops were also a great bonding opportunity for us -- we learned a lot about one another and discovered skills we didn't even know we had. "

Elena commented that "Anyone who worked as a part of a team in their job really appreciated these sessions. No one teaches you how to manage a room of over-excited people or read the intricacies of body language and energy levels when you start a new job. But those skills are essential for any leader. I will definitely be able to bring the skills from these sessions to the workplace."

Nathaniel Johnson said "I presumed that the Drama Development workshops were simply geared towards enhancing presentation skills, but I soon found that it was so much more.  I assumed that I would spend my time doing artistic re-enactments of dramatic pieces, but the activities proved to be enjoyable, relevant and extremely useful. 
The sessions enhanced my awareness of differing dynamics within groups and the activities focused on improving communication and collaboration.  The sessions contrasted the norms of our rigid lectures, coercing me beyond my comfort zone. However, participation was rewarded with a great experience, a greater understanding of myself, and my cohort.  Additionally, I discovered that my competitive MBA cohort, like to be silly and have a fun side too."

Dr Emma Brozinski felt the experiment was a great success.  The group were very engaged, and although she set her expectations a little lower, as none of the students had any background in drama, the enthusiasm and focus the MBA group brought to the enterprise to a highly successful conclusion. 

Justin O'Brien, in his role as MBA Director, stated "This is exactly the kind of activity that Royal Holloway MBA candidates appreciate.  It celebrates our strong arts based heritage, benefits from cross-disciplinary team teaching in a highly innovative format that sees students stretch and grow from a full range of learning experiences."