Challenging diversity in theatre curriculum leads to Excellence in Education Award

Excellence in Education Awards: Excellent Educator Award winner

  • Date

    Mon 31 Jan 22

Portrait of  Dr Eirini Kartsaki

Teaching Ancient Greek theatre from a feminist perspective, and Shakespeare through the lens of queer theory and race studies, are just two of the ways Dr Eirini Kartsaki has been challenging diversity in the theatre curriculum at East 15 Acting School.

Since joining the University in 2018, when she took over responsibility for the first-year Contextual Studies curriculum, theatre lecturer Eirini has implemented many changes, which have now been recognised with an Excellence in Education Award.

Contextual Studies introduces students to specific moments in theatre history and aims to build students’ written communication. In re-designing the curriculum, Eirini aimed to: implement an interdisciplinary aspect to the study of theatre; advance students writing and research skills; and emphasise equality and diversity considering identity and race. She also developed a new research-led unit exploring performance art.

Professor Rosemary Klich, Director of Research at East 15 Acting School, said the changes have been welcomed by both students and staff.

“Eirini has introduced an inquisitive ethos among first-year students about a range of issues and has found creative and playful ways to encourage conservatoire students to engage with rigorous theoretical ideas,” she said. “Her teaching fosters a supportive environment for students and encourages frank communication and open discussion of complex, challenging topics.”

A key element of her approach was to establish some “Terms of Engagement” with her students. Students were encouraged to engage in frank discussions of race, class, gender, identity and cultural background, and they then spent time establishing a clear etiquette for appropriate behaviour.

To develop writing skills, she collaborated with Skills for Success to organise workshops and implemented two writing retreats per term and also held one-to-one termly workshops with students.

She has also introduced students to new ways of approaching theatre history, using her own research to inform the curriculum. Her research focuses on feminist and queer studies across theatre, performance and visual arts.

But perhaps one of the most significant changes she introduced was a new unit of Contextual Studies that ran for the first time in October 2020 on Theatre and Race. It was designed in response to the Black Lives Matter movement events and is in-line with East 15 Acting School’s Anti-Racism Action Plan. It saw over 120 first-year students across campuses in Southend and Loughton, engage directly with ideas of racial equality and inequality, white fragility, colour-blind and colour-conscious casting, and unconscious racial bias as part of their required curriculum.

Eirini has more plans in the pipeline. She is organising a series of events which will focus on race and diversity; creating a Live Art Club which will offer a new extra-curricular activity for students to engage with Live Art and contemporary performance; and is in the process of setting up a new postgraduate degree – a Masters in Advanced Professional Theatre Practice.

Eirini said she was delighted to receive the award. She cited a quote from a book – a collection of essays criticising academia – called The Undercommons, which suggests that: “‘It cannot be denied that the university is a place of refuge, and it cannot be accepted that the university is a place of enlightenment”.

“I am delighted to receive this award,” Eirini said, “as I have been striving in my work to treat the university both as a place of refuge and a place of enlightenment.” 

More about our Excellence in Education Awards

Our Excellence in Education Awards are inspired by the University’s mission to achieve excellence in both education and research. We aim to provide students with a transformational education experience and intellectually challenging and stimulating courses that are based on creative and innovative approaches.

The Awards recognise and celebrate our institutional commitment to enabling our students to contribute positively to communities and societies around them.