Case study

Researcher, curator and lecturer — Johanne Natasha Hillary

Johanne is studying an MA Applied Theatre at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London

What qualifications have you previously studied and where?

Acting, Speech and Drama (Performance) at the Associate of London College of Music (ALCM) and a Licentiate of London College of Music (LLCM) at the University of West London.

Why did you decide on a career in performing arts?

Hailing from Sri Lanka I was exposed to the Civil War and labelled as a minority in my country. This meant that I became engrossed in the social sciences and humanities through extensive discourse and reading. I was specifically looking at the role of art and theatre for social expression and in the reconciliation and justice processes.

I have always wanted to explore ways of changing the mind-sets of my community back home. Sri Lanka is rich in cultural and ritual practices, and my passion for performing arts drew me into a career as a teacher and academic researcher in this area.

Applied theatre is a personal and uplifting subject that leads to social and individual change.

What previous roles have you been involved with and how does this relate to your career ambitions?

Since 2009 I have worked in academic and human rights activism settings. I worked as a monitoring and evaluation officer, project consultant/coordinator, and administrative officer at the Social Scientists' Association in Sri Lanka investigating how social change is shaping the multiple realities faced by communities in Sri Lanka and South Asia.

I was a project coordinator for the International Labour Organization and the International Federation of Journalists for Free Media Movement. As a result of this, I am keen to explore the subject of forced labour and fair recruitment from the perspective of sensitising media reporting through arts and performance to educate the communities who seek foreign employment.

I am currently director and treasurer of the Tendril Foundation in Sri Lanka, which engages in ural Economic development for women in the South of Sri Lanka and in future will incorporate Art and Performance, a non-profit organization for environmental and species conservation, forest and habitat restoration, and provision of sustainable livelihoods to farmers and the communities they live in. I am also a team member/project consultant/principal researcher at the University of the Visual and Performing Arts, Colombo, Sri Lanka under the project 'Lamp in a Windless Place: Developing an Actor Training Methodology through Sri Lankan Combative Art Forms'.

Tell us a bit about the subjects you're a lecturer for.

I teach acting, speech and drama performance, performing texts in social exclusion with my students. I explore key areas of research and study for performance in:  

  • applied theatre and cultural memory
  • public memory
  • reconciliation
  • enforced disappearances
  • difficult histories
  • politics
  • transitional justice
  • gender
  • cultural geography
  • race and language performance
  • actor training and corporeal arts
  • identity.

What do you enjoy most about this role?

My students come from different communities, and most perform in bilingual settings including English. It's always a learning process for me to adapt to their culture and social settings. It's wonderful to see the drive and engagement that students have in making work and aiming for a better world using performance arts. 

What are the challenges?

The subjects or the themes explored in my teaching are identified as sensitive to the societies that I work with or the individual who is about to perform and speak. 

As a practitioner and researcher, I hold strong ethics and I am observant of the personal experiences that are brought into the space of teaching. Placing myself in the difficult past or social settings of individuals takes time and studying political geographies and cultural behaviours can be challenging. 

What issues are you most passionate about?

I am passionate about how performing arts can be used to advocate for communities undergoing transitional justice processes. I am an avid reader of memory studies and the concept of utopia, and I am keen on exploring and researching how it can be combined within an applied theatre setting.

What advice would you give to those considering a career in performing arts?

I highly recommend studying Applied Theatre at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama if you are keen on studying a performing arts subject that's socially and politically engaged. For those with the intention of having a career as an emerging practitioner, academic, facilitator or performer and those who want to make a change in the systems of our world through theatre and performance, I would advise undertaking a postgraduate course.

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