The Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities, or a2ru, is an organization that advances the full range of arts-integrative research, curricula, programs, and creative practice to acknowledge, articulate, and expand the vital role of higher education in the global society. At the most recent National Convention, Texas Tech University was well-represented by a cohort of graduate-level scholars from the School of Theatre and Dance.
The theme of this year's convention, "Arts Environments: Design, Resilience, and Sustainability," provided an impetus for research teams to explore relationships between artistic creativity, environmental practice, and the difficulties in creating clear communicative channels between them. Interdisciplinary Arts PhD student Jennifer Ezell is a member of the "Makin' Rain" grant team whose goal is to create a workshop to facilitate interdisciplinary communication and brainstorming across disciplines.
"Communication is the biggest challenge I have had with my a2ru partnership," Ezell said. "As an interdisciplinary fine arts doctoral student, learning how to communicate effectively across disciplines is imperative. Our work process has taught me the value of listening and then rephrasing to check for understanding. This workshop method will help bridge communication and expectation gaps that prevent scholars in individual disciplines from creating partnerships. My team plans to pilot a full version of our workshop at Texas Tech this spring."
Two other Texas Tech students, Randall Rapstine and Cole Wimpee, were invited to a2ru to speak as part of a panel due to their involvement with The Marfa Intensive, an eleven-day immersive devised theatre program hosted by Texas Tech that teaches students the process of building a play from the ground up.
"I have been inspired by all parties involved to continue to explore the benefits of the devising process throughout my university career and beyond," said Rapstine. "The response from attendees of our panel at a2RU solidified the value of the work I have been a part of. I also was proud to share with the academic community the fantastic opportunities that are available to students at TTU."
Wimpee was skeptical about the pedagogy of The Marfa Intensive before first attending and witnessing how the program worked first-hand.
"The program far exceeded my expectations: so clear and structured is its approach" said Wimpee. "I expect to incorporate the methodology into my own process as a director of devised work, and beyond practice, I am in the process of co-writing an article on the program, which I hope advances interest in the program by sharing with other theatre educators and practitioners its noteworthy qualities on a national level."
Even though Rapstine was in attendance as a panelist, he was inspired by the interdisciplinary relationships he witnessed throughout the conferences other meetings and workshops.
"a2ru inspired me to explore ways to bring scientific interdisciplinarity into my dissertation production, Canterville, which will close the 2018/19 season for the School of Theatre & Dance," said Rapstine. "Attending the a2ru conference expanded my artistic opportunities and allowed me to make connections in academia that could prove quite fruitful as I seek employment upon completing my PhD studies."
According to Ezell, a2ru supports artists and art scholars at research universities in valuable ways that may not be evident at first glance, but she feels that it is worth the effort to be involved.
"The faculty and professionals who present at a2ru have navigated the challenges of working in the arts, and their insights and expertise is valuable for those who wish to work in university settings," said Ezell. "In the first panel I went to I learned about federal grants, regional opportunities for partnerships, and university buzzwords and proposal phrasings that get projects support and funding.
"In other words, yes, arts students should absolutely seek out opportunities with a2ru."