Vade Mecum at Rose Bruford College

I teach a performative writing class on Rose Bruford’s MA in Actor and Performer Training. The activity of writing is considered performative in it’s capacity to create worlds out of language.  The students are tasked with creating a Vade Mecum (latin for ‘Go With Me’) as part of their final submission. Teaching this module has given me the chance to reflect on how documenting classroom activities need not be a perfunctory exercise or one purely undertaken to record what happens or what is said.

A student’s journal is the most under utilised material in the studio. It is usually treated as supplementary to the real business occurring. Performative writing allows for students to treat their written reflections as creative acts in themselves. The necessity to record what is outwardly happening can be supplanted by what is happening inside them during the process of their learning. The vade mecum is process in motion, a means of inscribing thinking in what Rebecca Schneider calls an “inter(in)animate” form. Neither live nor dead, text exists in-between what has come before and what will come after. It gives a material form to work that has yet to emerge. In this way students are able to realise the potentiality of the performances they construct. Each sentence, each word, can take them down a different path of creativity and thinking.

The Vade Mecum is an artefact that captures the key messages of their practice. This artefact is not a log book or a journal or a diary. Neither is it an academic text. Students are not required to speak about their work in a overtly academic register. But it not a private document. The vade mecum is an opportunity to express their professional identity in text. The notion of a professional identity in this context is distinct from a role in theatre. Actor, playwright, director, producer, dramaturg – roles can categorise people and set limitations on their sense of self in the world. A professional identity denotes the ways students value their craft. What use is theatre to the society it exists in? How does work impact on one’s ethics, our relations with the world?

I used the archive as an overarching metaphor to get the students to start thinking about how the vade mecum should operate in the world and for  them to begin thinking about the significance of writing for a future audience who will continue the work they are making in the present. Moreover, the archive is bound up with questions of ancestry and legacy, which enabled the group to consider how theory becomes live when it enters into a performative process. Autobiographical and site-response practice acted as points of departure in creating a form of performative writing that possessed something of memory’s mutability.