Stage students find artistic inspiration in Dada and The Decameron

Devising new work using a Dada-esque ideation technique is just one of the creative ways students at Federation University Arts Academy prepare for real-world practice.

A game used by the Dadaists to unlock their creativity has taken on new life in Ballarat, as Federation University Arts Academy’s third-year Bachelor of Performing Arts students reclaimed the stage post-COVID.

‘The Dada artists in the 1920s played a game called Exquisite Corpse that allowed them to free-associate ideas,’ explained Ant Crowley, Co Program Coordinator – Performing Arts. ‘We also know that David Bowie used this game as a song-writing method, and for us it was a creative catalyst.’

Exquisite Corpse was the students’ first major show after last year’s pandemic-induced hiatus and allowed them to display their full range of theatre-making skills, while simultaneously responding to the events of 2020 with theatricality and imagination.

As part of their preparation, they looked to Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron for inspiration. This classic 14th Century text relates how the young people of Florence are sent away during the plague and use story-telling to help cope with their isolation.

‘Of the many skills a performer must master to be successful, the art of collaborating within a creative ensemble is one of the most challenging,’ said Crowley.

‘Collaboration requires a willingness to take risks and offer ideas, and an acceptance that some of your ideas will find a home in the production, but some will be rejected. This requires a sophisticated level of trust and the courage to navigate ambiguity as students search for their own “voice”, supporting the creativity of those around them without subjugating their own agency and opinion.’

Working on a collaborative project like Exquisite Corpse prepares the Arts Academy students for a range of work scenarios they will encounter in the creative industries and helps to ensure they are job-ready on graduation. It also develops valuable transferable skills, both personal and professional, in fundamental areas of emotional intelligence such as cooperation, empathy, inclusivity, mutual respect, and adaptability.

Developing these skills underpins much of the Bachelor of Performing Arts program.


The Arts Academy offers degrees in Performing Arts and Visual Art that are designed for the performers, thinkers, makers and presenters of the future.

Each course emphasises cross-disciplinary collaboration. This enables students to build rich networks through real-world creative projects as they develop the essential skills needed to thrive in today’s diverse and challenging creative economy. Importantly, students at the Arts Academy learn from industry professionals who have strong real-world expertise.

‘Our staff are practising professional artists who bring a wealth of expertise and experience across a range of skills. We regularly invite imaginative and rigorous sessional lecturers including directors, designers, musical directors, acting, dance and voice teachers into our team.  We want to prepare our students for an arts career that is exciting, fulfilling, and sustainable,’ Crowley explained.

        A scene from Exquisite Corpse performed by third-year Bachelor of Performing Arts students, Federation University Arts Academy 2021. Photography by Luke Lennox.

The Arts Academy is a hothouse of creativity with stage and screen acting workshops; voice, dance and singing classes; and performance master-classes alongside the lectures and tutorials. Students become confident, multi-skilled practitioners, ready to work across the creative industries including television, theatre, music theatre, opera, film, cabaret, comedy and multimedia performance.

‘Our learning environment is unique and we offer a centre of excellence in arts training,’ said Crowley. ‘We are a bespoke regional faculty and that encourages a sense of community and collaboration that embraces the whole campus.’

The Arts Academy operates out of Federation University’s Camp Street campus in Ballarat’s CBD, with Crowley noting: ‘As an official UNESCO Creative City, Ballarat is a dynamic artistic hub, and the Academy plays a significant role in its cultural life. And we’re only an hour from Melbourne.’

Arts Academy graduates are in demand, prized for their versatility and readiness to be actively involved in creative projects. They find their vocation as visual artists, theatre professionals, singers, UX designers, writers for stage and screen, community based arts practitioners, motion designers, and many more creative careers.

‘We pride ourselves on our inclusivity, gender and neurodiversity and our respect for the uniqueness of students. We don’t think in narrow paradigms of contemporary practice; we train students to be prepared for the full spectrum of creative industries.’

From Shakespeare to Sondheim, and the classic repertoire to newly devised works such as Exquisite Corpse, the Arts Academy at Federation University is a leading destination for performing arts studies.

Admission to the Bachelor of Performing Arts is by a two-part audition process with the initial auditions completed via video. The Arts Academy holds online workshops ahead of the auditions to help applicants prepare. Applications for the 2022 intake will open in August.

Learn more about the Arts Academy at Federation University.

Dr Diana Carroll
About the Author
Dr Diana Carroll is a writer, speaker, and reviewer based in Adelaide. Her work has been published in newspapers and magazines including the SMH, the Oz, Woman's Day, and B&T. Writing about the arts is one of her great passions.