Applying FUTURES at Middlesex University

The work of the FUTURES research project is ongoing. One of the most exciting things about it, is that it is always evolving, in a constant process of emergence, finding applications in different environments. At Middlesex University, we are adapting our work from the second intellectual output, and are running futures workshops in two new contexts.

The first one is for an event open to doctoral students across the university, a first get-together of our research students since the start of the pandemic. Some of them have never been on campus, or met their supervisors in person! So there is a lot to catch up on, to foster a sense of community, but also, and crucially, to collective think about our futures.

The initiative came from a colleague in the Business School, who wanted an experiential event to ‘break the ice’ between the doctoral candidates in the school. We proposed to run a version of act 3 of our ‘Performance for Futures’ module, Devising and Dramaturgy.  In this context, we called it Oblique Strategies for (non)-Academic Futures. In it, participants will have the opportunity to write and embody versions of their future, which will then be disrupted using our own version of Brian Eno’s and Peter Schmidt’s Oblique Strategies, developing skills in anticipation for the future (scenario generation) and anticipation for emergence (embracing complexity).

The idea was so well received that the University’s Deputy Vice Chancellor for Research, Knowledge Exchange and Engagement requested that the event be open to research students in all faculties and schools. We plan to make this a feature of the academic calendar for research students and together with them explore the possibilities that futures work can afford, perhaps with a different workshop every year, so that in the course of a standard 3-year full-time doctorate, students can experience all three acts of the ‘Performance for Futures’ module.

The second context in which we will run futures workshops is that of what we in Theatre Arts at Middlesex call ‘the bridge’ between the second and third, final year, of students’ BA degrees. Now that the academic year is coming to an end, students attend a number of sessions at the university, in which they start thinking about and preparing for the next year. As part of this process, we have decided to replicate the workshops from the ‘Anticipation for the Future’ and ‘Anticipation for Emergence’ modules, run online by our colleagues at BUT and Hanze, respectively.

Still, our run of the workshops will not be exactly the same as the original. There are two important differences: the first is that we will be running the sessions in person and in one space, so we will have to find the in-person counterparts to breakout rooms and online resources used, such as Miro boards and Polls. These were effectively used by both Hanze and BUT, when the sessions were originally delivered.

The second difference – and this is one of the reasons we are a part of this project – is that we will add a performative element to the activities. Quite how we will do this remains to be seen… But the fact that we will be working on this with Theatre Performance and Production, and Theatre Design and Production students will be advantageous to us, as our students are generally open to experimentation and will no doubt be willing (and critical) participants in the sessions. We hope to enable them to think about their futures in their third years and beyond, when they enter the labour market, and to use those images of the future to inform their present thinking.

This is a challenge we very much enjoy and relish; it is really nice to see the research making its way to various activities in the University, involving postgraduate students from a number of disciplines and including our theatre undergraduate students, acquainting them with the cutting-edge work of the FUTURES project.

Repetition is a form of change