Cisco UK & Ireland Blog

Our partnership with the National Theatre is awesome. Here’s why…

December 21, 2015

One of the reasons I really love technology is its ability to totally change people’s lives.

I caught up with Melanie Whitehead at the National Theatre this week to learn about Cisco’s partnership with the institution, and this very thing is happening.

As part of a UK tour of the award-winning The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, the National Theatre gave BTEC students aged 16 to 18 across the country the chance to create their own set, costume, lighting, sound and video designs for the play. And not only that, but they then got the chance to have them reviewed by the actual production team.

After arming them with a brief, and a whole load of resources, they presented their work over WebEx.

The set and costume, lighting, sound and video designers working on the show directly fed back on the students’ work through our collaboration kit at the National Theatre.

“This was an amazing opportunity for the students,” said Melanie, who heads up the National Theatre’s learning programme for touring productions’.

“Many have to produce portfolios of their work as part of their university application – so being able to directly engage with professional designers when you’re that age is pretty special.”

“Just being able to ask direct questions to someone who is working at such a high level in their industry is absolute gold dust. Not only does it offer a great chance to learn, but it’s massively inspiring.”

With the majority of the young people aged studying at level 2 or 3 in BTEC Production Arts, it sounded like an opportunity too good to miss!

Using collaboration technology at this scale was a first for the National Theatre, and it meant they could spread the benefits much wider than they would have been able to normally.

“We wanted to offer a deeper connection to the production for those who were seeing it outside of London,” said Melanie.

“That’s when the technology really came into its own. This was about being able to connect with young people all over the country.

“We had colleges from Fife to Cardiff to Stratford-upon-Avon speaking to us.”

At the same we were able to connect them with the designers who sometimes weren’t even in the country.

“It allowed us to work with everyone collaboratively all the way through that process – even when the designers were working on other projects. For students it helped them understand the thinking processes they need to go through, and how to solve any issues they come across.”

“Students can sometimes feel isolated in classrooms, especially if they live in an area of the country where there is little or no opportunity to see much theatre.

“This connected them with others around the country who faced similar challenges but came up with different outcomes and solutions.”

“It’s as much about being inspired by their peers and feeling that genuine connection.”
Melanie said there’s more to come on future projects knitting together technology and the theatre, but she’s tight-lipped on any details, for now.

“This was a whole new way of working for us – absolutely,” she said.

“There are so many different possibilities through using technology and we’ve really learnt a lot. We hope there will be more opportunities to work this way in the future – but that’s all I can say for now!

“We treated this as a bit of a pilot project, and we’re working with the team at Cisco, to see what else we can do.”

Sounds pretty exciting, so we’ll keep an eye on how that one develops! In the meantime just click here to find out loads more.

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