Welcome to Trinity Laban Crosscurrent, a music and dance podcast brought to you by London’s Creative Conservatoire that unearths fascinating and divergent stories in the performing arts.
In the third episode of this six-part Trinity Laban Crosscurrent series, we hand over to guest student hosts Dan Lane, Finton Flynn, George Pertwee, Holly McConville, Maisie Meehan and John Sturt who are in conversation with Head of CoLab Joe Townsend about what collaboration means and share their worst date stories, inspired by Valentine’s Day.
CoLab, our annual two-week cross-faculty Festival of Creativity, is a time of imagination, experimentation and risk where students are empowered to take control of their creative learning.
This year over 1000 students, staff and visiting artists have joined forces to create, develop and rehearse diverse projects in response to the theme of ‘what I care about’.
Interview with Joe Townsend
DL: Hi, I’m Dan Lane. Here’s an extract from our interview with our Head of CoLab Joe Townsend. Welcome Joe, how are you?
JT: I’m very well thanks.
DL: Who’d like to kick off this session?
GP: Should I kick it off?
DL: Yeah mate absolutely
GP: So CoLab’s become like a flagship part of Trinity Laban. I guess I really want to know where did it come from? Was this your brain child or something that developed over many years?
JT: I think it first started… 9 years ago was the first CoLab. The previous Director of Music here, Claire Mera-Nelson, she had this idea based on something that was done in CalArts in California where they have what they call a midterm, and basically the students all take part in different projects. The thing with the way they do it in CalArts is it’s much more like “here’s a project, and you can sign up for it and you get x amount of credit”, you do a written bit. It’s more curated by the staff, and that’s kind of what we were going to do at first. But then I thought, actually, talking to a very good friend of mine who runs a national youth orchestra I said, “If you were going to do this what would you do?”. And she said, “to make it really successful you’ve got to get the students to take you on the journey”. So I sort of thought about it and I thought well what we need to do is like have this process where people pitch the idea of what they want to do and then select them and then that way you’ll get student engagement and you also find out what people want to do.
DL: One of the questions I wanted to ask was how do you split your time out in the two weeks when everything is just kicking off, like how do you manage to see everyone?
JT: I’ve got a Joe Townsend Robot [laughter] and he’s currently up at Laurie Grove –
DL: You got one in Laurie, one in Laban –
JT: One in Laban [laughs] and some point at three o’clock they’re going to discover it’s a robot and I’m going to be in trouble –
DL: The batteries have run out!
JT: No, seriously, I mean I’ve got a great team of people if I’m being honest. People are texting,
DL: So many email back and forth
JT: So many email back and forth. And there are things at like all, every different level to take care of. And importantly the students are coming up and going, “I don’t know what project I’m on because I don’t do emails”. So fine, ok. And so we sought of have to iron out the little problems that arrive. For example, we’ve got this Brexchange Ensemble, which is students from Kodarts and from Utrecht, and then our students. Turns out there’s only about two English people in the whole group, it’s so multinational.
Multiple voices: Oh wow, that’s great
JT: It’s really exciting. But there were three drummers and we only got one drumkit. So an example of someone saying “you’ve only got one drumkit, any chance of getting another drumkit?”. The crew, who’ve been like carrying kit and driving vans around for the last three days, the last thing they want to hear is, “oh can you just possibly drop a drumkit…”. But yeah they are amazing and you just have to say “yeah you won’t get it now but they will get it up there at some point tomorrow for us”. So it’s dealing with those logistical things all the time.
JS: It must be hard
JT: And then it’s finding the students who, you know, are having a great time, students who may are not having such a great time because it’s a different type of learning – not always being told what to do – it’s a bit of a lottery sometimes who you end up in a project with. I think that’s one of the key things about CoLab, and I believe that making music and dance and musical theatre is a social activity –
HM: Yeah definitely
JT: And pianist get a chance to come out of their practise room, and guitarists, you know, and wind up in a project with dance and go, “oh that’s interesting” and who knows… When you rub two things together you sometimes get sparks but that’s normal and we are a big sort of family in a way and I think CoLab enhances that idea of family and community. There’s a sort of a buzzy vibe in Butler’s at lunchtime. It’s very quiet the rest of the time because everybody’s out doing their projects.
MM: Because of course there’s some many people and CoLab’s something that really pushes a lot of people out of their comfort zone with like all of the different things, do you ever get people who need a bit of a nudge to kind of accept what they’ve been given or is everyone usually very open to what they get?
JT: Yeah that’s a really good question. I think it’s hard sometimes because in my position as Head of CoLab people don’t come and tell me they don’t like CoLab because why would you?
MM: Yeah fair enough
JT: I think in the early years there was a lot of resistance – there was a petition. On the Friday before the very first CoLab there was a petition of 420 signatures saying ‘we want one to one lessons’.
MM: They just didn’t want to mix basically?
JT: Yeah but I mean having said that everybody did CoLab. The main thing is that you do something, you evaluate it, you fix it. The whole proposal process was different in the first year. I just sent a form out saying ‘what sort of things do you like to do’ and then we created the things and placed people.
HM: How many projects did CoLab start with?
JT: 85 [Indistinct interjection]
DL: How many now?
JT: 82 today. It’s always about that. Next year is going to be the tenth year. We’re going to arrange the projects differently because for the first time all second-year dance will be taking part in CoLab – so more people. But also, because second-year dance will be taking part, it gives us a chance to bring all the first years together in a CoLab. So all the new students are going to be placed in projects which is quite revolutionary actually. I’ve talked to loads of people about this and we think that it’ll be really cool that in the first year it’s all first years together and then second year [undergraduate] up to Masters will be the normal proposal process. And the reason for that is that the projects will be slightly shorter and more intense. You’ll have 8 musicians, 8 dancers, four musical theatre, based on the size of cohort and there will be about 20 projects led by two people. It gives a chance for our staff to build collaborative relationships, because at the moment the mentoring you know they’re in and out, especially on the dance music projects. So that’s the plan, and there will be just a wonderful chaotic sharing at the end as there usually is. And the reason for that is so that when people arrive we’re not expecting first years to propose projects and then go ‘I’ve proposed this project and I’m surrounded by students I don’t know very well and I’ve got not experience of leadership’. So I think that’ll be really interesting. There will still be a really diverse range of projects and things, but they [students] will just be placed into projects and sort of inducted into the CoLab way if you like. And then next year, because it’ the tenth year, I’m going to curate ten projects which are like my favourite projects over the last ten years –
FF: Aw, that’s brilliant
DL: That’s great
The group share worst date stories
DL: And now here’s a short clip from our Valentine’s Day special where we discuss our worst dates ever.
MM: So I was in a ‘Spoons with my family, and my mum had gone outside for a cigarette, and some random guy asked my mother for my like Instagram and stuff
DL: Because your mother is your go to person to ask for your Instagram
MM: She was, because she gave it to him!
FF: Was he attractive?
MM: He was attractive, I’ll give him that
DL: What’s you mum’s name?
DL: Big shout out to Lorraine. You go girl.
MM: Yep, best wing woman. But um, no, we went on our first date – bear in mind I hadn’t actually met this boy ever – and um, yeah, we went to a like a little –
DL: Before we carry on, how many photos did he like on your Instagram before?
MM: No he was smooth, he didn’t like any
DL: Did he not? Wow. I wouldn’t have given him the time of day.
MM: No he was really smooth, he was like chatting to me on Facebook first and was like –
DL: God he got all your contacts didn’t he? [Laughter] Instagram, Facebook…
MM: He went for it.
DL: He did. Are we allowed to name and shame this person?
MM: He’s called [beeped out]. He’s got a girlfriend now.
MM: But um no, so we went to like a little bar restaurant type place. He spent the entire time slagging it off and slagging of the town I live in which, don’t get me wrong, is a s***hole, but you don’t say that. And then we was like, ‘shall we go for a drive?’
MM: He was like proper boy racer, it was like his child
DL: Turns out it was like a Fiat 500 or something
JS: A Fiat 500 with really dodgy exhaust.
MM: So he was there speeding down the road, went to the moors, with all the other cars, it was dark –
DL: How romantic…
MM: It was really, really creepy. So that was fun.
DL: And did you see him again?
MM: I actually did!
DL: I’m going to dive in and give you a really bad first date. I think it was a couple of years ago now. There was this one girl, she seemed nice, really nice – funnily enough we went to the Weatherspoon’s in Cambridge –
MM: Another hidden gem.
DL: Another hidden gem that is the Regal. And she seemed really nice, really lovely, and we were literally chatting for ages and I think that I hadn’t had dinner so each drink I had I was getting more tipsy and tipsier but I, it was fine. And literally halfway through she gets a phone call from her friend like ‘oh my gosh, I’m really sorry to do this but my friend she’s having some sort of problem at home’. I was like ‘oh my gosh, do you want me to take you home?’. And she said ‘no it’s fine, my friend said she’ll pick me up’. I said, ‘I really don’t mind, it’s absolutely fine’, she’s like ‘no, no it’s fine, I’m really sorry I’ve really go to go, I’m really sorry’. I was like ‘no it’s fine, go, go’. She went, I message her later in the evening, I was like ‘I hope everything’s ok’. Didn’t hear back.
All: Oh no
DL: The later in the night – I think I was going to go to bed – I message her like ‘hope you got home ok, hope your friend’s ok, let me know if I can do anything to help’. Woke up the next morning, still no message. There comes a point where you’re using one social media platform [laughter] and you need to get on the other one to make sure that they’re ok. So I went on my Instagram and I was like ‘oh hi, hope you’re ok, just making sure everything’s ok’.
[Shriek of laughter]
MM: How many messages did you send?!
DL: Three, just three!
FF: That’s alright, that’s alright, that’s alright.
DL: She didn’t reply. So I got ghosted basically.
FF: Aw that’s awful
DL: I never heard back from her afterwards. But, to be fair, she’s missing out so joke’s on her.
MM: She actually used the ‘have her friend be ready for an emergency’ play, literally.
DL: I believed her…
[Conversation fades out]
DL: With me on the podcast was Finton Flynn, George Pertwee, Holly McConville, and John Sturt and Maisie Meehan, and a thanks to George Pertwee for the editing. Thank you and goodbye.
Trinity Laban Crosscurrent is produced by Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the podcast contributors and do not necessarily represent those of the institution as a whole.