Yawen Zhu

Yawen Zhu

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

My major in high school is fine arts, I studied oil painting, sculpture, Chinese painting, which makes me interested in various art forms. I learned fashion design at Tsinghua University, and the comprehensive departments gave me the opportunity to take a wide range of courses in visual arts, industrial arts, architectural design, public art, philosophy, history, literature, and music. So my background is very broad, and the rich interests make me want to become an art director.

What made you want to apply to your Masters course and to Leeds?

I’ve been interested in British culture since I was a child. I love Shakespeare and the British style of art and design. My goal is to study for a PhD in culture and directing and I want my work to be cross-culturally minded. The curriculum of the MA in Performance Design is very attractive to me. I notice that the course here included thinking about culture, rather than just creating design works, Leeds place a lot of emphasis on developing conceptual thinking and research skills. I have always believed that good artists need to be full of ideas and beyond creative visuals effects, we need to reflect and ask questions, which I felt during my masters at Leeds.

What is it that makes you passionate about your area of study?

As a student changing my major, I think performance design is more suitable for my career interest. Because in the curriculum setting of Chinese universities, subjects are often separated, such as costume, props, and lighting. Although my initial interest is costume design, I don't want to limit myself to a narrow field. I notice that scenography is a broad interdisciplinary field, such as the cognitive science I am studying, materials and new materialism, site-specific performance and cultural geography involved in the course, as well as many performance cases reflecting political thinking and sensitive topics, which makes me feel that compared with simple stage design, it's more like we are trained to become artists or philosophers.

What aspects of the course are you enjoying the most?  

I like the idea of combining theory with practice, which is different from the practice-oriented undergraduate stage and the theory-oriented PhD stage, and I think this is the charm of the master’s course. It will systematize what you have learned as an undergraduate, and pave the way for your PhD studies, which makes it possible for students to gain something valuable for themselves from the course, whether they want to work or pursue further studies in the future. Another important point is the optional courses of different majors, which gives us the freedom to explore knowledge in other fields and develop networks of different backgrounds.

What would you say about the learning facilities in your School and at the University in general?

The facilities of Leeds are very rich, which is also the advantage of multi-disciplinary university. We can borrow books on different subjects from the libraries of different departments. The resources of the online library are abundant, which is very important for conducting research. We have access to classrooms in different faculties and our school building has its own stage and studio as well as professional equipment, which are open to students and can be booked or rented freely. The beauty of the campus and the unique cultural atmosphere of the city of Leeds provide important experiential opportunities for art students to experience and study.

Did you work closely with a particular tutor or member or the University’s academic staff? Tell us about that experience. 

I am very grateful to our lecturers Joslin and Scott. What impressed me most was how well they worked together when I studied Critical Concepts and Performance Praxis in the first semester. I learned new theories every week and read a lot of rich background literature and video resources provided by Joslin. In class, the combination of lectures and seminars helped me to have a deeper understanding. In the practical sessions afterwards, I was delighted to find that Scott would give relevant reading and performance materials in the field of practice and lead us in practical sessions to further experience and reflect about the concepts we had learnt. Lecturers encourage us to ask questions, be creative, collaborate and reflect, all of which influenced me deeply during the course.

What other activities are available for students to take part in outside of their studies, and which ones have you tried out yourself?

We can see stage@Leeds performances for free as well as buy tickets for other theatre shows in Leeds at student prices. Lecturers often provide us information about new shows and volunteer opportunities, and there are many related opportunities in the school. My classmates volunteered for the Leeds Light Festival, drama performances, and participated in the prop making activities of the club. I participated in the volunteer rehearsal activity of postdramatic part-durational Performance "12 Last Songs" of Leeds Playhouse introduced by Joslin, acted the role of hairdresser and joined the background interview recording.

What do you plan to do when you’ve finished your course, and how do you think the skills and knowledge you’ve developed/are developing at Leeds will help with these plans?

I was deeply impressed by the thinking on art and culture in the course, so I chose to apply for a second Masters programme in Intercultural Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. I hope to combine the theoretical and practical knowledge I have learnt in Leeds with my experience of British arts and culture and intercultural knowledge to explore the relationship between performance designing and audience perception in different cultural contexts. I will try to apply for a PhD program related to this direction, and the research ability cultivation and critical thinking formation in Leeds will be very helpful.

What would you say to anyone thinking of applying to your course?

I would love to see more students come and study in Performance Design at Leeds, whether you prefer theoretical research or practical creation, want to work or continue your studies in the future, you can get what you want here. Hopefully you can come here and bring your own areas of interest so that you can focus on what you want to know. Or if you are still looking for your direction, like I was, Leeds will help you discover and explore new goals and encourage you to pursue your dreams.