Students make a drama of enterprise learning

IOEE Centre of Excellence London South Bank University (LSBU) is a leading light when it comes to pioneering initiatives that inspire and enable entrepreneurial endeavour across all disciplines. We caught up with three LSBU drama students who are complementing every performance with a side-serving of business thinking.

Forward-thinking colleges and universities are increasingly acknowledging that enterprise learning should not be confined to business and management courses. Rather, it should be taught widely as part of all subjects at every learning level. Holly Stringer (20), Jacob Adams (21) and Tom Davis (23) are all third-year Drama and Performance students at London South Bank University. All three are interested in becoming performers, with a specific interest in live theatre performance, as Holly says:

“We’ve all done small performances on screen and helped out with student film projects but we prefer working in the theatre. Our course is very varied. In the first year, it was a lot of classical training, learning about method acting and naturalistic acting but then later we did a lot of multi-media performances, learning a futuristic approach to making theatre.”

One specific aspect of the course that appears to have captured the trio’s imagination is ‘working as a company,’ which is focused on making your own work rather than simply putting on plays written by others. Having forged a tight bond during their studies, Holly, Tom and Jacob are taking the notion of ‘working as a company’ one step further by creating their own real world enterprise – Shindig Theatre Company. To do this they have engaged with two LSBU support programmes that operate entirely separately from their main learning programme. The first is Spark, a programme that runs across two university semesters and is delivered by LSBU’s dedicated Student Enterprise Team. Spark is designed to help students with start-up ideas transform these into real world businesses by providing them with valuable support and guidance at a series of weekly meetings. Because the programme is open to students from any undergraduate course, the drama students decided to take the opportunity, as Tom explains:

“We’re planning to tour a piece of theatre later this year so we joined LSBU’s Spark programme back in September with the intention of accessing their business acumen and knowhow to help us to create and develop our own theatre company. We learnt about networking, social enterprise, budgeting and how to market your enterprise in a professional way.”

The Spark programme provides students with funding of up to £500, however, it’s not an easy process and, as Tom explains, the cash doesn’t all come at once:

“At the start you get £250 but then you must prove your worth, as it were, outlining what you plan to spend the money on, what steps you’ve taken to create your project. You only receive the second half of the money if you achieve your goals in progressing your idea.”

The three students decided to invest the first part of their Spark funding in communications, creating a social media presence for their start-up theatre company, as well as a dedicated micro-site. Holly says:

“We decided to use the first instalment from Spark to work on our branding because obviously to sell a performance people need to come to see it. And, as much as we have the skills to create a good show, nobody will know about it if we haven’t marketed ourselves properly.”

Like many of the other Spark participants they met along the way, the three drama students also decided to try their hand at LSBU’s Pitch It competition. This time, students had to pitch their enterprise ideas to a specialist panel who are tasked with distributing £500 funding grants, which the students can use to establish their fledgling enterprises. Jacob recalls:

“We had to develop a presentation and pitch for our project, saying what the future of it would be and what we hoped to gain from it. Then they shortlisted a few names, one of which was ours, the Shindig Theatre Company.”

After winning the Pitch It competition, Tom, Holly and Jacob were able to put their additional funding towards their show which will see the fables and folklores of European culture come to life via the techniques of medieval theatre and live music sounds like an exhilarating experience. Tom says:

“The piece we’re working on is an adaption of an old Germanic folklore called The Sandman, which is to do with dreams, nightmare and sleep. There’s lots of surreal imagery and it will be an hour-long performance.”

Ultimately, the piece of theatre that Holly, Tom and Jacob stage will be part of their final third year performance project. Having performed for their degree in late May, the three young performers plan to tour their work across other London venues and festivals during summer 2017. The input and fresh learning they’ll take from Spark along the way is something all three appreciate. Holly says:

“The whole idea of getting on the Spark programme is that it will allow us to develop the business idea of our theatre company as we simultaneously develop our show.”

And, although the programme doesn’t count towards their degree’s final mark, Tom believes it has already altered their attitudes for the better:

“Spark has made us care more about Shindig Theatre Company because we’ve invested so much time into making it a viable future start-up. I think enterprise education is incredibly important, particularly from our standpoint. As drama students we expected we’d be a bit out of place applying for a business start-up programme but they obviously saw potential in what we were pitching and what we found is that you can apply this business model to any start-up; it’s the actual business knowledge, the understanding of how to network and how to build on social and intellectual capital that’s important – and that’s something you can apply to any discipline. The presence of enterprise in any university is incredibly important and it should be expanded and developed further to reach more people. It’s certainly helped us so far and will hopefully continue to do so.”