World Report

The Free University of Brussels creates a Master in Performing Arts with a robust semiotic component

By André Helbo

In most European universities, theatre studies focus on the role of the text and emphasize the specificity of theatre with respect to literary studies. Since the academic year 2005-2006, the new program leading to the Master degree in Performing Arts at the ULB (Free University of Brussels) has a strong semiotic component. Its two-year curriculum aims at analysing and producing live spectacles. The originality of this program is that it is included in an international project, coordinating a network of 12 universities in Europe within the framework of a European Joint Master.

Through the range of specializations it offers, the Master in Performing Arts meets a diversity of specific expectations and provides a challenging curriculum in the field of Performing Arts. The program proposes three specializations: « European », « Performing Arts » and « Research ». The first two specializations offer a combination of theoretical and practical courses, while the third specialization is devoted to research.

Thanks to an important range of courses the Master widens the study of theatrical topics. In this respect, semiotics constitutes a major theoretical perspective as well as a general methodology. Theatre, dance, opera, circus are approached as complex systems whose production, reception and inter-semiotic translation are taken into account. Several courses enable first-year students to tackle semiotic aspects of the theatrical performance (general semiotics, media semiotics, visual semiotics, opera semiotics, introduction to performance’s analysis, the drama, its structure and its performance).  At the end of the curriculum, students are expected to have an extensive ability to use semiotic tools in a theatrical performance analysis or production. Eventually, those courses will give the students an extensive introduction to meaning and communication systems. The students are particularly confronted with the issues of production and reception codes. Students also benefit from a series of practical workshops devoted to creative writing and staging, organized in part in collaboration with the Conservatoire of Brussels.

Within this context, the students have also the opportunity to approach the staging techniques from a semiotic point of view during training courses with stage directors.

Second-year-students can take some of their courses in one (or several) other European university/ies toward the completion of an international degree, awarded thanks to the Bologna system by the European Joint Master in Performing Arts. The network of 12 universities provides the students with the opportunity to achieve a specialization in their chosen fields. A common degree is awarded by the network which also organizes international workshops for the students twice a year.

The program encourages the acquisition of both global knowledge and refined skills allowing a comprehensive approach to spectacular/performance phenomena and their evolution in a changing society. The aim is to provide students with tools of critical comprehension, production and creation of performing arts in today’s world, while paying special attention to the semiotic context. The targeted skills concern, among other things, the support, reading, practice and management of the spectacular events / performances. The creative, critical or cultural management dimensions are approached from a critical point of view and acquired complementarily.