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Susan Elkin: Where to find bespoke training for participatory theatre

Hotel Medea by ZU-UK. Photo: Ludovic Des Cognet

Not every part of the drama training sphere is made of the same stuff, and it’s refreshing to see niche training emerging that caters to new strains of theatremaking.

Take ZU-UK, which is celebrating its 15th birthday this year. The company, born with the unwieldy name of Zecora Ura and Para Active, is involved in immersive theatremaking. It is also committed to training through its Drift International programme, a methodology that has been used to coach artists in 10 countries for the past decade.

Perhaps that multinationalism is in its DNA; ZU-UK has been based both in east London and Rio de Janeiro since its inception in 2001. It is now launching a new programme – Dramaturgy of Participation – which will teach and and share its unusual approach to participatory and immersive performance.

Hotel Medea by ZU-UK. Photo: Ludovic Des Cognet
Hotel Medea by ZU-UK. Photo: Ludovic Des Cognet

The course coincides with the start of a new masters programme – MA contemporary performance practice – with University of East London. And the company is currently running a series of workshops and talks in New York and London. There’s an article from ZU-UK (also called Dramaturgy of Participation) to be published by Palgrave this year as part of the book Framing Immersive Theatre and Performance.

Participatory, immersive theatre seems really to have taken off in the past decade or two, from the wonderfully imaginative work by Punchdrunk, to many children’s shows I’ve seen (including terrific ones at the not usually very prominent Brook Theatre, Chatham) and Muse of Fire at Shakespeare’s Globe.

And as it’s now a clearly developed, and developing, strand of theatre work, it’s absolutely right that experts in the field should be offering training.

So hats off to ZU-UK founders and directors Jorge Lopes Ramos and Persis Jade Maravala, with their strong track record of collaborating across cultures and artistic disciplines. The company has led projects at higher eduction institutions all over the country, including Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of East London, East 15 Acting School, City Lit, Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance, and the universities of Lincoln and Manchester.

Last year, the company established a base, Gas Station in Stratford, east London, in order to focus on projects, ideas and conversations that live at the intersection between games, live performance and technology. Long may it continue.