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Arts lecturer reflects on doctoral journey

by Gerrit Bester

Beginning postgraduate studies is difficult, but the amount of personal growth you go through is immeasurable, says Mienke Fouché, one of the newest doctors at the Faculty of Arts and Design. Mienke, who is a lecturer at the Department of Performing Arts, shares her academic journey to obtaining her doctorate in Performing Arts from TUT during one of the University's autumn graduation ceremonies held on 25 April.

TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR CAREER SO FAR. I have been lecturing in the Department of Performing Arts (Technical Theatre stream) for seven years, five of which on a full-time basis. I teach modules in prop-making and management, as well as set design and management for the performing arts industry.

WHAT IS THE TITLE OF YOUR PHD DISSERTATION? Affect and Agency in Anthropomorphising Operated Performing Objects: A Pragmatic Technician’s Model.

WHO WAS YOUR SUPERVISOR/S? Prof Janine Lewis (Associate Professor: Performing Arts) and my co-supervisor was Dr Laetitia Orlandi, (Section Head: Performing Arts).

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT ON THIS JOURNEY TO SELECT THE RIGHT SUPERVISOR/S AND HAVE A GOOD RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM/HER? This is of utmost importance! Your supervisor is a key influencer in the development of your study and your stability as a researcher throughout the process. Building a good relationship with them ensures stimulating engagement with the content and enables you to grow as a researcher by guiding your ideas and allowing you the space to come to your own conclusions. Moreover, a strong relationship provides psychological grounding, which is essential as this process can be emotionally draining.

SHORTLY EXPLAIN THE MAJOR FINDINGS/DISCOVERIES MADE AS PART OF YOUR STUDY AND HOW THEY CONTRIBUTE TO THE CURRENT BODY OF KNOWLEDGE IN THIS FIELD. This study developed a model for generating character in remote machine performers from a technician’s perspective. This research formalised artist and theatre maker, William Kentridge’s approach to developing machine performers. This contributes to the field of performing arts by expanding on a performing object sub-type that has not received much academic scrutiny. Additionally, this model can be used by technicians to create convincing machine performers.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR FELLOW STAFF MEMBERS WHO ARE BUSY WITH THEIR DOCTORAL STUDIES OR ARE CONTEMPLATING SUCH STUDIES? I would advise that you have a solid idea of what you want to explore in your study and that you are motivated to engage with your topic to expand your field. You are going to have to saturate yourself in the information that you gather, therefore you need to have an active appetite to consume, process, internalise and produce with it.

WHAT ARE YOUR RESEARCH INTERESTS, AND HOW IMPORTANT IS RESEARCH OUTPUT IN THE ARTS? My research interests are in performing objects, performing spaces, character design and creation, as well as the influences of technology on the aforementioned. Research output is integral to the Arts as the artistic environment is not static and certainly not immune to the effects of technological advances. As Arts researchers, we need to understand and influence the changes to our artistic industries.

HOW WILL YOU ENCOURAGE A CURRENT STUDENT TO PURSUE POSTGRADUATE STUDIES? There is no doubt that embarking on your postgraduate studies is challenging but the personal growth that you undergo is immeasurable. This is a step in your life that not only benefits your professional development but also your personal well-being.

WHAT ARE YOUR AMBITIONS ACADEMICALLY AT THIS STAGE OF YOUR CAREER? My ambitions are to conduct research in the technical theatre discipline and produce valuable outputs. I hope to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship to further strengthen my path as researcher.

Dr Mienke Fouché, lecturer at the Department of Performing Arts, Faculty of Arts and Design, obtained her doctorate during one of TUT’s autumn graduation ceremonies.

Dr Mienke Fouché flanked by her supervisors, Prof Janine Lewis (left) and Dr Laetitia Orlandi (right).

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