FCAD takes an international view to developing student talent

Sponsored feature: presented by The Faculty of Communication & Design at Ryerson University

“International cultures aren’t just the great restaurant down the street or some artistic expression or interesting fashion that we’re not used to,” says Charles Falzon, the Dean of FCAD at Ryerson University. “They are about human stories. Engaging with them is about making more than just a superficial connection.”

The old days of elite Canadian universities serving sealed-off communities of tomorrow’s leaders have given way to more international perspectives. Post-secondary programs like FCAD, or the Faculty of Communication and Design, are making efforts to reflect our global interconnectivity, whether it’s through one-off projects with foreign institutions, direct student exchanges or group travel experiences.

At FCAD, this turn towards a more international view helps demonstrate for students how so many of the world’s industries are irrevocably linked in both a commercial and cultural sense. Rather than waiting for students to discover how these factors can impact their careers after graduation, FCAD is looking to provide that exposure as part of the education they receive over four years.

However, it’s no easy task to change the culture and structure of higher education where there are pre-specified learning outcomes and a history of expectations from students, faculty and donors.

“You can’t make this change in just a single two-week experience or even a three-month international exchange,” says Falzon. “But you can do it if it’s part of the DNA of four years of education – and that’s what we’re trying to do right now.”

One such project is an annual theatre experience on the island of Hydra in Greece. Hardcore fans of Leonard Cohen will know it as the place he lived while writing the novels The Favourite Game and Beautiful Losers. With Cohen’s recent passing, the primary stakeholders for this project – FCAD’s School of Performance and Hydrama Theatre – decided to focus on celebrating his life and work in a show combining theatre and dance.

Scott Phyper was one of the 15 students who went on the three-week trip this summer. “We were given a script a couple of weeks before the flight and we did our first read-through when we actually got to the small island, and then we completely created the show from scratch.”

The group of students performed the piece on Hydra for an audience that included the Canadian ambassador to Greece and local government dignitaries. They then performed it again on Poros, another nearby island, before heading to Athens to see the Acropolis.

Hydrama Theatre - Greece.jpg

Now entering his third year, Phyper’s theatre production studies are primarily targeted towards a career in stage management. This experience not only challenged him and his fellow students to apply what they’ve learned so far, but also pushed them to innovate where necessary – which is what they’ll be expected to do on the job in the cultural sector.

Phyper likens the production experience to travelling itself: “You can only plan so much. At some point, you just have to take your backpack and start walking and let the chips fall where they may.”

The Hydra trip is just one of a growing number of international experiences available to FCAD students. These range widely in destination and activities are determined by each disciplinary focus. In 2017 alone, there have been collaborations and trips involving community engagement in Kenya, curriculum development in Dubai, trans-continental art installations with a London university and intensive entertainment industry seminars in Los Angeles.

“The end goal is to provide international experiences for every student at FCAD that are relevant and meaningful,” says Falzon. “Life is not just about getting a degree and getting a job, but we’re all at some level collaborating in our own futures. And the best way to educate people is to make them aware of that.”

Visit the RU FCAD digital residency to explore education, creation and innovation in the creative industries.

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