Photo: Anna Lehtonen
Theatre pedagogy MA student Veera Aaltonen in one of the teaching laboratories.

Pedagogical thinking as a catalyst for art – thoughts by new pedagogy students of Theatre Academy

”Many people ask, what are you doing there in your programme”, says Laura Humppila, a new MA student in theatre pedagogy, ”and the short answer is that we are researching and looking into the contemporary theatre, its practices and the research of it. And to develop that field we need to have pedagogical thinking.”

The new class in the Master’s Degree Programmes of Dance Pedagogy, and Theatre Pedagogy have begun their studies in August, and four students from the theatre side have gathered to the Theatre Academy’s refectory to discuss the harvest of the past autumn term.

The MA Programmes, which admit students biennially, operate in a multidisciplinary fashion — and with people from many nationalities. Among the new students there are people who use Finnish, Finnish Sign Language, Hungarian, Italian, Spanish and English as their first language.

Right from the start, the studies have consisted of myriad of subjects. The first autumn has been spent with dance and theatre practices, exploratory learning, the philosophy and history of education, yoga, voice training, somatic methods, thinking about the foundation of an art pedagogue, and working multidisciplinarily with fine arts and music teacher students.

Time for focusing on oneself and the group

Despite the abundance of coursework, the students have found time to focus on themselves as well:

“Even though we do things as a group, you’re allowed to focus on your own thinking here”, says Johanna Perttula. “I was flabbergasted, in a good way, about how much you get personal feedback on, say, your essays.”

“It was great how everything started with looking into our own roots and background in life on The Experiential Foundations of Art Pedagogy course”, asserts Laura. “It was a really good start for these two years. It was a very nice way to get to know each other and you got a little glimpse of what your own thinking is maybe going towards.”

Why is it important for an art pedagogue to consider their own background and influences?
”Diving into the personal experience helps the pedagogue to learn to see those moments that could be very direction-changing”, Laura explains. ”Even though they might feel small, they might be, for the one who’s learning, very big in the end. Those you can only find when you look for them in your own point of view.”

Nóra Varga continues on that: ”And on another level, the group develops your understanding. We have such different perspectives and we need to learn to express them and reflect on them.”

”All this analysis and diversity of points of view develops critical thinking – toward yourself, too, so you don’t just teach some exercises randomly”, adds Johanna.

A topic that has come up frequently in the autumn is questions of power:
”All the things we have studied relate to what’s happening in the field of arts and the society in general. We have been talking a lot about power recently — and from the start, actually", mentions Laura.

Coming up with pedagogical points of view to art and research

In the studies, an exploratory approach and academic discussion are emphasised:
“The word ‘research’ has come up very strongly, and everything has a certain inquiring approach. It’s not on some general level that would stay somewhere as candy floss. Rather we’re encouraged to form a point of view and to narrow the focus”, describes Minttu-Maaria Makkonen. “I’ve thought about performative narrowing of the audience member’s focus, and how to move their experience.”

”For me it’s different as I have an academic background”, says Nóra and lists former degrees in aesthetics, the Hungarian language, and theatre theory. ”For me the question is how can you really analyse these artistic projects in an artistic way with some pedagogy involved… Even though studying here is totally different, I’ve realised I can use my theoretical background and knowledge in exploratory pedagogy.”
She offers a strong statement as well: ”There’s no art without pedagogy.” She laughs and continues: ”And it’s quite clear to me that we have to share this with people!”

”In my own case, through pedagogical thinking, I wish to create more spaces for physical theatre and make it more accessible”, says Laura and summarises: ”The pedagogical thinking helps an artist firstly to work with the group they are working with, secondly to create whatever it is that is being created, and thirdly, to work with the audience because the pedagogical point of view is also the point of view of somebody you don’t know, somebody who doesn’t know what you are thinking, and somebody who doesn’t know the arts.”



Text: Kenneth Siren

The conversation held in Finnish and English has been edited for clarity and length.