How studying Honours creates entrepreneurial artists

Applications are now open for WAAPA’s new Bachelor of Performing Arts (Honours), offered in 2022 for the first time.

The opportunity to interrogate one’s creative practice by undertaking an Honour’s program – to explore the whys of making, not just the how – is an increasingly important step on the artist’s journey.

As educator, actor and director Dr Renée Newman explains, an Honours course is an opportunity to extend one’s making experience by exposing yourself to new research methodologies and growing as an artist as a consequence.

‘It’s really an opportunity for the students to extend their practice, to extend their understanding of who they are as an artist. I see it as an opportunity to extend who they are in the ecology of the arts, from a local perspective but also nationally and internationally; to ask them to interrogate who they are, who they want to be, and how they can position themselves in the world,’ Newman explained.

Newman, a Senior Lecturer at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), is in charge of delivering the institution’s new Bachelor of Performing Arts (Honours) program, which is being offered for the first time in 2022.

‘An Honours course enables students to become entrepreneurial artists; artists who are going to contribute to the Australian performance ecology; to question it, challenge it, and extend it – to do all of those things,’ she explained.

With WAAPA already offering a one-year Honours program for dance students through the pre-professional LINK Dance Company, the decision to create an Honours course for performance-makers of all stripes simultaneously extends and consolidates WAAPA’s educational opportunities.

‘Rather than having two different honours programs, it’s now a Bachelor of Performing Arts (Honours), with two separate streams within it. So as a dancer, if you want to continue to interrogate from within the form as a performer-dancer, then you do that inside the Company. If you’re a choreographer, you join the devisors, directors, writers, dramaturgs and designers – because we really want to have an opportunity for Honours to open up to lighting, sound, stage and costume designers – that’s where you come through the performance-making stream.’

WAAPA’s LINK Dance Company. Image supplied.

Potential Honours students will already have spent three years honing their skills to a high professional standard; undertaking their Honours will enable them to deepen their perspective.

‘We can’t really broaden or deepen our skills unless we’re willing to actually challenge who we are in the world, and how and what kind of art we want to make,’ Newman explained.

While existing WAAPA courses will feed into the Honours program, Newman is keen to encourage students from other institutions interstate to apply.

‘If you’ve not quite finished your education yet, in terms of wanting to examine how you make, and you want to have that support from an institution while also learning what it means to be a solo researcher on a solid project, then come along. This is for you,’ she said.

Students who come to WAAPA for the first time will also soon have the opportunity to study at the school’s new City Campus, opening in 2025 and a stone’s throw from the Perth Cultural Centre.

‘When the City Campus opens in 2025, Honours can be a part of the evolving cultural fabric of the city and extend on how we can engage with the community.’

Nor do applicants to the Honours course have to be recent graduates, Newman continued.

‘If you’ve ever wanted to really question who you are as an artist and where you want to take yourself, then please get in contact and make an application, because now is the time. The world is so filled with crises and uncertainty, and the arts have always been a place in which we can try and navigate that trickiness. And so if this is something that you want to do, then do it. Come to WAAPA and do Honours.’

WAAPA’s approach to the Honours program will be cross-disciplinary, breaking open traditional arts silos and encouraging students to work alongside one another on their own individual research projects and learning from each other, as well as from visiting artists. As a consequence, Newman expects the outcomes from the Honours program to be significant both for the students as individuals and the sector more broadly.

‘I can see companies forming, I can see grants being written, and I can see people being really smart about these things, because that’s what we want. We want to have artists who not only produce fantastic quality but also extend who we are as an arts industry in Australia, and we want them to thrive doing that,’ she concluded.

Learn more about WAAPA’s new Bachelor of Performing Arts (Honours) program. Applications close on 15 October 2021.

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on Three Triple R FM, and serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's volunteer Committee of Management. Richard is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Living Legend in 2017. In 2020 he was awarded the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards' Facilitator's Prize. Most recently, Richard was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Green Room Awards Association in June 2021. Follow him on Twitter: @richardthewatts