A culture of urgent necessity

By Dr Kate Hunter

In our current climate of Higher Education funding cuts, academics are dealing with many tasks and additional administration as part of their job. As the pressures on academics mount, part-time and casual positions in academia have become the rule rather than the exception.

As a part-time, fixed-term academic, employed because of my industry practice, balancing my ECR responsibilities with a career as an independent performance-maker demands a very particular attention. The usual complex set of tasks that characterise a busy academic life - teaching, supervising, administration- are sometimes in competition with an industry practice that includes creating public events. In addition to actual creative practice that is manifested in researching, rehearsing, devising, I must also manage stakeholders beyond my collaborative team, to ensure that presenters, producers, publicists, interviewers, and technical suppliers are coordinated to achieve the final successful output.

There is an unspoken imperative to be ever-vigilant, to maximise potential and to increase momentum . . . This feeling of urgent necessity is underpinned by the insecurity of my academic position: I can’t rely on it forever, and so I must make sure my career in theatre has relevance and sustainability.

A typical month will consist of a combination of disparate and disjointed tasks.  Take October, for example. My workload included: writing an application for a residency; writing an application to the Australia Council; writing an application for an internal university small grant; reviewing and re-writing a media release; listing my non-traditional research outputs since 2011; changing the opening night of my new show to the following night because the opening night clashes with another independent production which will poach all our VIPs; conducting a Skype meeting with a dramaturge for rehearsal notes covering a rehearsal process 2 weeks ago; sourcing and buying 10 plastic funnels and 50 metres of grey water hose to make an audio instrument for my new work; marking 40 first year case studies; assessing a Masters student’s creative research project; and teaching a 22 hour unit on verbatim performance. These activities require me variously to be expansive, analytical, embodied, conceptual, metaphoric, spatial, pragmatic, efficient, reflective, curious, confident and methodical. There is an unspoken imperative to be ever-vigilant, to maximise potential and to increase momentum in my practice. This feeling of urgent necessity is underpinned by the insecurity of my academic position: I can’t rely on it forever, and so I must make sure my career in theatre has relevance and sustainability. 

There are benefits to my situation, however. I can drill down into teaching pedogogy through my practice, and this nexus ensures content is relevant for my students. Articulating my practice within a pedagogical framework requires me to reflect deeply on what I do.  Maintaining an ongoing professional practice ensures I generate fruitful industry partnerships with collaborators. The shift from a freelance to a waged position gives me some consistency and an income that supports my artistic career, especially if not all funding applications are successful. But it has brought a number of challenges; notably finding the time and space to research and write papers, particularly in an environment where many competing tasks vie for attention, and where deep thinking is likely to be framed in the context of live research.

There are many early career researchers and teachers in the same position. We need a commitment from universities to broaden their understanding and recognition of the need to address these challenges if we, and our universities, are to achieve a sustainable future.

There are many early career researchers and teachers in the same position. We need a commitment from universities to broaden their understanding and recognition of the need to address these challenges if we, and our universities, are to achieve a sustainable future. Firstly, universities need an understanding of the requirements of creative arts practices in industry in general, and secondly, of the discipline-specific complexities that characterise different fields within creative arts practice. We need bespoke professional development opportunities that target industry academics. We need creative strategies for maximising the profiles of industry projects within institutions in order to support artist-researchers but also to make the most of their contributions for the benefit of institutional research. We need research organisations like the ARC to legitimise practice-led research as a mode of knowledge. We need to broker new opportunities across and within institutions and investigate new models for matching researchers with artist scholars. The increased focus on industry engagement and impact underscores the importance of addressing these issues now. Formal mentorship programs for ECRs who are not tenured and which are designed to fit the time limitations that face such individuals, could be a creative start.


Dr Kate Hunter’s cross-disciplinary performance juxtaposes digital and analog technology, storytelling and the live body, and investigates innovative use of verbatim recordings to examine the complex interplay between hearing, listening, reading and speaking that is implicit in the ways humans communicate through language. Kate is an associate artist with award-winning physical theatre company Born in a Taxi and board member/core artist with Tashmadada contemporary performance company. In 2018 she will take up a residency at SymbioticA, a life sciences research laboratory dedicated to interdisciplinary artists investigating innovative directions in science and technology. Kate is Lecturer in Creative Practice (Art and Performance) at Deakin University.