Fourth year Contemporary Performance Practice student Maria J. Monteiro has written a letter to people who are thinking about applying to RCS to study this distinctive performance course. This epistle talks through her personal experience of her studies and her reflections as she prepares to graduate in 2021.
My name is Maria J. Monteiro, I am Portuguese and have been living in the UK for the past 7 years. I graduated from stage acting in Portugal, but I never felt like acting was exactly what I was looking for. I wanted to have a say on the work I was creating but also for it to be a response to contemporary events. Ultimately, I was looking for artistic freedom and that was when I stumbled upon CPP. To be honest, I joined CPP because of one module. While going through the programme I noticed that the second year was focused on social practice. That sounded interesting and relevant to my arts practice however, I was not sure what I was going to take from it. Regardless, I knew I wanted to know more.
I remember vividly my first day. I was quite nervous and wondering if I, as a mature student, would be able to fit in with my younger classmates. If you’re in the same boat don’t worry, there is a space for everyone and that is what makes this programme so unique. Also, Contemporary Performance was not a familiar term for me, therefore, I was unsure about what the four years ahead of me were going to be. Well, that is why I am writing you.
First year is the year to dive in! You look at the background of performance art and engage with it from a critical point of view. This is relevant to lay a foundation on what your following three years will be. This is also the time where you get to meet the people who you’ll be working with for the next three years. Although it is a busy timetable, there is a lot of space to get to know your peers. I would describe this year as the discovery year – but this will become more evident as you move forward.
Second year comes in a blink of an eye and, certainly it was one of the most challenging years for me. Partly because I was working while studying, but also because it is a year full of thought-provoking discussions! After a first year focused on you as an artist, the second year asks you to widen your horizons and look at performance from a social practice lens. Before I joined the course, I have had experience of facilitation and working with young people, however during this year, you connect with other practitioners/facilitators and theories while putting all this theory into practice (e.g. directing and collaborating with a group of P6 students in a primary school).
I see this as a crucial year as it demands you to connect with other people from different backgrounds, ages and who might not be familiar with performance art. I recall doing a street performance around Queen’s Park where I was exploring how can we create connections with strangers. I dressed as a waitress and was handing out wax-sealed letters with poems from Portuguese poets on a silver platter. Within my personal life, I noticed a lack of sensitivity towards foreign people but also a lack of geographical knowledge in particular regarding Portugal. I saw this as an opportunity to teach something about myself, my home but, also a chance to create a real connection with strangers. The outcome of these interactions was quite precious. One of the letters ended up in the hands of a man who asked me to read it to him, while he was waiting for the bus (he didn’t have his reading glasses). Quickly this captured the attention of other people at the bus stop and, as I read the poem, a little audience gathered around the man and I. Another man read the poem and said he was going to read it back to his wife. Another lady, proudly announced that she knew the name of a Portuguese writer. All of these singular interactions created a chain of unique moments and that brings a lot of interesting conversations about the role of art within society.
Just like that you reach third year. At this point you start to have more autonomy and be more in charge of your learning. I started by doing a placement with a company called Hidden Giants. They work within educational settings and that was the cherry on top after a whole socially-engaged year. That experience allowed me look at my learning with a more thought-provoking spirit and deeply question my learning so far, but also what were my aims as an artist? During this year, you collaborate with some of your classmates and devise a show, as well as dive into research and writing. Half way through the year, the UK entered lockdown and we had to digitally devise a performance from our homes. I ended up live streaming from my bathtub exploring religious rituals. The nature of CPP allows us to look at this challenge and very quickly adapt. All of these learning moments heavily influenced my decision to do a postgraduate once I graduate.
This leads us to now: me writing you this letter. I’m in fourth year, closer than ever to graduating, working on my degree show for the Into the New Festival and looking forward for my last module “Arts in Prison”.
Reading all this might feel slightly overwhelming but let me give you some insights of how I feel. Once you reach fourth year, you feel ready. You have gone on a three-year journey and the course and tutors give you so much space to explore, as well as to be in charge of your own learning.
By the time you get where I am, you will feel energised to take the lead and to start making your own performance work (what a great thing to feel right?!). You are in charge of your development and you have tutors available to support you and guide you at every step of the way.
I look at my first day now and I get emotional. I wasn’t too old for this programme. I was as right as any of my friends. I will graduate knowing that I got to work alongside excellent artists and I am lucky enough to call them friends!
As a prospective student, all I can say to you is to give it a shot. This course isn’t a one-fit-for-all kind of learning. You will need to be independent, but you will also have inspiring practitioners supporting and listening to your needs. Be open to experiment, to receive feedback, to connect with others but mostly: be daring and if you fail… use that!
Wishing you an exciting journey,