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  • The CAPITAL Centre:Teaching Shakespeare (and More) through a Collaboration between a University and an Arts Organization
  • Jonathan Bate (bio) and Susan Brock (bio)


Both the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and the University of Warwick were founded in the early 1960s, and both seek to combine international excellence in their respective fields with a commitment to local links in the English West Midlands. Since their inception, there have been many links between the two organizations. University staff from the Departments of English and Theatre Studies have contributed program notes for productions, advised directors, and assisted in the rehearsal process at the RSC, while actors, directors, and designers have visited the university and given students insights into the workings of a theater company and its productions.

Early in the new century there was a concerted effort to develop a more sustained and systematic relationship. This coincided with the ambition of new RSC artistic director Michael Boyd to reinvent the company as a learning organization, where research is an integral part of the process of making theater. A number of initiatives were explored. For instance, the RSC was committed to a return to its original 1960s policy of commissioning a substantial amount of new theater writing as well as keeping the Shakespeare repertoire alive. Since Warwick has one of the most high-profile and successful creative writing programs in the country, the idea of a joint playwright [End Page 341] appointment was a high priority. Understandably, though, the RSC initially found it difficult to commit the necessary resources to such collaborations without there being a new source of funding. Perhaps the first lesson of any collaboration between a university and an arts organization is that both timetables of action and predictability of funding streams are very different in these two worlds. The highest priority of an arts organization will always be the next production, the next exhibition, the next concert. Financial positions are dependent on subsidy (state provision or private philanthropy) and box office. The extent of the former is rarely known more than a year in advance, and the latter can vary literally from week to week. Universities, by contrast, have to take the long view, especially in the heavy audit climate of the British system, where every new course—and even changes to existing courses—needs to be justified a year in advance with a set of aims and objectives and assessment criteria erected and scrutinized by a series of departmental, faculty, and university committees. Preliminary conversations between Warwick and the RSC were full of good intentions but lacking in genuine outcomes, as a result of the absence of a designated funding stream.

However, an opportunity arose in the form of an invitation from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) whereby universities could bid for new Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETLs). The thinking behind this government-led initiative was that substantial sums of competitive funding had become available for university research, making teaching the poor relation. The idea of rewarding existing excellence and disseminating best practice across the disciplines throughout the higher education sector was part of a wider shift back toward a sense of the integral relationship between the two vocations of the university, teaching and research. A distinctive feature of the invitation to bid was that applications could be made by universities working in collaboration with noneducational organizations where learning took place. This in itself was a sign of the times: one of the chief characteristics of management theory and business practice in the early twenty-first century has been an emphasis upon the idea of "the learning organisation" (Senge 1990). Given the existing synergies between Warwick and the RSC, the ambition for broader collaboration, and Michael Boyd's vision of the RSC as a learning place, there was a strong case for a bid. One of HEFCE's demands was that potential centers should have an arresting name, suitable for a "flagship" initiative. We came up with the idea of "Creativity and Performance in Teaching and Learning": thus the CAPITAL Centre was born. [End Page 342]

Aims and Objectives of the CAPITAL Project

The headline objective was to make the resources...


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