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Radical Theatre Entrepreneurial Education

I look at entrepreneurs and their use of technologies to develop modern creative industries. I specifically examined the powerful trends of local pantomime producers to create sustainable work in a ‘gig economy’. In the last five years I have been re-writing my initial findings to establish ways the pantomime context can teach employability and entrepreneurial skills to K-10 students.

How Connections Between Entrepreneurs and Entertainers Are Closer Than You Think

To be sure, we must always start from the satisfaction of wants, since they are the end of all production, and the given economic situation at any time must be understood from this aspect.  Yet innovations in any economic system do not as a rule take place in such a way that first new wants arise spontaneously in consumers and then the productive apparatus swings round through their pressure.  We do not deny the presence of this nexus.  It is, however, the producer who as a rule initiates economic change, and consumers are educated by him[the entrepreneur] if necessary; they are, as it were, taught to want new things, or things which differ in some respect or other from those which they have been in the habit of using.  Therefore, while it is permissible and even necessary to consider consumers’ wants as an independent and indeed the fundamental force in a theory of the circular flow, we must take a different attitude as soon as we analyse change .

J. A. Schumpeter (1934), The Theory of Economic Development: An Inquiry into Profits, Capital, Credit, Interest and the Business Cycle, 106.

Assumptions and practices around entrepreneurship have a long history. 

My particular interest in better understanding its importance in my career began in the late 1980s as a young English/Drama teacher and theatre director, mindful of the bleak job prospects of my students, all longing to work in the theatre. It motivated me to complete a doctoral thesis on theatre entrepreneurship, in which I studied 19th-century theatre entrepreneurs who produced commercially successful productions which gave rise to theatre industries globally. 

The historical inquiries I immersed myself uncovered work contracts, production prompt copies, publicity materials, newspapers and magazines and so much more. Collectively, they demonstrated  to me an entrepreneurial mindset operating within a gig economy of a fast-growing industry. Remarkably, for the last 25 years, I’ve watched how my personal quest to understand how my students might better find jobs in a creative industry has become a far more common problem for everyone in all industries.

The Ai Workforce Group reported in the Emergence of the Gig Economy (2016) that:

By 2020, it is forecast that contingent workers will exceed 40 per cent of the US workforce. Freelance work arrangements have long been common in writing, consulting, design and skilled trades but have now moved into a broader range of occupations and industries. Many workers (particularly those of Generation Y) are disenchanted with their 9 to 5 routine and have an increasing need for flexible and diversified work. Others, unable to secure employment in the challenging labour market, have turned to freelancing out of necessity. Whatever the motivation for freelancing is, it is indisputable that this mode of work is rapidly growing alongside the emergence of digital freelance marketplaces. Individuals are increasingly shaping their careers with these avenues by working on a task-by-task basis for different employers concurrently. 

It is now 2021 and we are in the middle of a once in a century epidemic.  The world of work is being tested in many ways – both on the level of personal resilience and at the policy level of National and International organisations.  Working from home, disturbed school schedules and the sustainability of businesses are now all under scrutiny.

At the very least, it’s now safe to say that the challenges once faced by artists and technicians living off short-term contracts and experiencing  ‘portfolio careers’ are not problems unique to the creative industries. Speaking personally, some twenty-five years after completing my thesis, the term ‘gig economy’ has new meaning. I now speak more as a parent and citizen than a theatre artist or drama teacher as I view all teachers and parents looking for help to prepare young people to face both the positive and negative aspects of a ‘gig economy’, induced by the digital disruption of all workplaces.

The ‘good news story’ that comes from doing my doctorate also still remains as I affirm the power of historical inquiries themselves to better understand the world of work.  Since completing the thesis, I have shown the value of teaching theatre entrepreneurship in no less than five drama textbooks.  But now, I believe it offers a unique perspective to all teachers on how young people might navigate and negotiate the challenges ahead in their career planning.

Furthermore, the upheavals in liberal democracies from the effects of ‘fake news’ (the storming of Congress in the USA lingers in its distressing implications still)  have made me even more determined to declare the vital importance of teaching historical knowledge and skills. 

It is, therefore, my hope that the curriculum materials I have devised in Working As An Entrepreneur demonstrate how a historical perspective deepens our understanding of the value of work. Seen in a historical context, a personal quest to find a career pathway resonates with the human yearning for a good life. Past examples of entrepreneurship then open our students to valuing each step of the journey,  each facet of the process of what it means to work as an entrepreneur.