Theatre in Wales

Commentary and extended critical writing on theatre, dance and performance in Wales

The Future of Drama training in Wales?

Opportunities to work in theatre in Wales have reduced significantly in the past 10 years and there is a feeling in this sector that there is little point in professional development without increased opportunities to work. The reduction in the number of small companies and in-house productions within the venue network has resulted in a significant gap in the career path for actors and directors. The Arts Council of Wales’ Five Year Arts Development Strategy addresses the drama infrastructure in Wales with the proposal of a new Drama Strategy which includes the development of a new national Welsh language theatre company, a review of theatre for young people, consolidation of middle and large scale English language theatre production and touring and support for community touring.

Demand for drama based community work such as forum theatre is on the increase as theatre is increasingly recognised as an effective tool, for example, to re-engage disaffected young people. The training implications of this are addressed within the Community and Voluntary Arts Sub Sector section of this Report.

Entry Points:

The traditional route into acting and directing remains school – youth theatre – drama school/university drama department. The reduction in the number of schools offering drama (no longer part of the National Curriculum) has made it difficult for young people in some areas to develop an interest early on. Local amateur dramatic societies often run youth groups which can provide an entry point for young people. However, these groups often specialise in musical style shows which restrict the possibilities for young people who do not sing. Youth theatre groups connected with venues such as the Torch, Sherman and Theatr Clwyd provide a much more balanced early training for those young people within their catchment area.

Another route into theatre has been via community based organisations such as the YMCA, community plays and projects. Private organisations such as Stagecoach also provide an entry point for children whose parents are prepared to pay for theatre workshops. Drama workshops from the age of X are offered by RWCMD’s Junior Department.

It was agreed that there is a need to ensure diverse entry points for young people who have talent and want to express themselves but would be unlikely to take the traditional drama training route unless given additional encouragement. Although it is not necessary to have academic qualifications to access drama schools such as RWCMD, the College has a low rate of auditionees from disadvantaged backgrounds and it is also been difficult to recruit from a broader multicultural base.

BTEC Performing Arts can be an effective entry point to drama training although FE College admission policies vary and so this is not necessarily a solution to the issue of access at present.

The National Youth Theatre of Wales has a number of ‘cold spots’ from which it finds it difficult to recruit and in recent years has provided theatre outreach workshops concurrently with its summer school in areas where provision is low. There was a feeling that the time had come to create an alternative to the National Youth Theatre of Wales which had not been successful in recruiting many disadvantaged young people.

The Eisteddfod tradition in Wales offers a huge range of performance opportunities and entry points to a career in the arts. However, these entry points are primarily accessed by young people within the Welsh medium schools system.

It is not currently possible to undertake three year professional acting training entirely through the medium of Welsh although it is possible to take some modules at RWCMD and Aberystwyth University.

Career Development:

The days when actors went straight from drama school and learnt ‘on the job’ in repertory theatres are long gone – the majority of companies are no longer in existence. Young actors and directors often gain their early experience in Theatre in Education or youth theatre where young audiences can be particularly challenging. It was the consensus that more opportunities of this kind could be created by encouraging companies to offer ‘apprenticeship’ type schemes, particularly to young directors. Some theatres/companies such as the Sherman are already doing some of this on an informal and formal basis. The Assembly’s Graduate Placement Scheme had enabled Spectacle to take on a stage manager/workshop leader for 12 weeks.

Amateur and community work was felt to offer career development opportunities. A Welsh actor’s portfolio might well include some TV, some theatre, some community work etc and this is particularly prevalent for those working through the medium of Welsh.

Also in terms of developing a portfolio of work to enable an actor to earn a living in Wales, it was felt important that practical training for drama students was also offered in other aspects of theatre ie being involved in the running of productions, not just acting. This could lead some into other areas of theatre eg stage management which they had not previously considered and, as an all-rounder, increase their employment prospects with small companies in particular.

A reduction in the number of small companies has reduced opportunities for young actors. Aberystwyth Arts Centre offers an ‘open platform’ for young companies to take advantage of its facilities and support such as marketing free of charge.

A model of training at Hope Street in Liverpool was given as an example of how an intensive 6 month course could provide development opportunities for those who had not come into acting through the traditional routes. The Liverpool course offers students the opportunity to work creatively with companies such as Tressle, Shared Experience etc. The course group works as a small company and give performances at the Hope Street venue where they are based. Management training is also given so that students are encouraged to set up their own companies. ‘Graduates’ are then followed up for a year with mentors.

Continuous Professional Development:

Professional development/training for those working in theatre was divided into the following categories:

i) Skills based training eg working with film or on the internet.
ii) Nurturing training eg personal development.
iii) Inspirational training ie ‘go and see’ projects, mentoring etc to encourage new energy and creative possibilities.
iv) Training as in experimentation and creative development. Having the opportunity to take risks and develop new ways of working.
v) Puppetry. This is missing both at professional development and early training/entry point level (although it does form a small element of the three year RWCMD Theatre Design BA).

It was reported that in Europe theatre training is much more readily associated with artistic experimentation and creative development than appeared to be the case in the UK.

The subject of an Actors’ Centre for Wales was brought up again and again. Although it was acknowledged that this would be difficult to set up and run, it was felt overall that this type of facility was the only way to provide much needed consistent professional development opportunities for actors and directors in Wales. Such an organisation would need resources and an energetic and talented leader. It would also need to be able to work via satellites in order to deal with the important issue of rurality in Wales.
Current Provision:
Please also refer to the section on arts training providers on pages x to x. The following were those mentioned by individuals and organisations taking part in the research.
The Centre for Performance Research emerged as the organisation most closely associated with professional development for actors and directors. There was a call for more opportunities of the kind they offered – on tour around Wales. Although it was acknowledged that there was a complete absence of training for directors in Wales, CPR was credited with at least opening up opportunities to work creatively in workshop situations with international directors visiting Wales. However, CPR’s role is more as a pioneer to try out new things rather than to provide consistent training of the type requested by a number of participants to the groups.

ELAN offers an opportunity for actors/directors/musicians to develop through working in a strong creative environment, often on an international basis.

An interesting point was the feeling that some actors had in terms of accessing training outside Wales. Some felt that they would prefer to go to somewhere like the London Actors’ Centre to train rather than going through a professional development process with people who might be future employers. This view was outweighed considerably, however, by those who felt they could only access training if it was more locally based.

Gaps in Provision:

- Professional development for those just out of college, offering a year of experience perhaps linked to a TIE company. CPR offers ‘bursary barter’, work placement and internship schemes on a largely informal basis. More of this kind of opportunity was felt to be needed around Wales.

- Study in theatre practice which includes the skills needed to set up theatre companies etc, not necessarily purely acting. This is currently being looked at by RWCMD/Sherman.

- Director’s training.

- Sound and lighting for directors.

- Television ‘transfer’ training for actors.

- mentoring schemes with regular professional development contact on specific subject areas eg physical theatre and site specific work.

- Administration skills, especially the funding application process.

- Comedy master classes.

There was little interest in the accreditation of professional development courses and training opportunities. The greatest issue for people was the opportunity to train with others in an experiential way and to have opportunities to be inspired by international work and learn from others in the field.

Development Issues:

- The opinion of many is that further training is pointless without job opportunities. The lack of small companies to take on young actors has left a significant gap in the career path.

- A lack of opportunity to perform within a larger ensemble these days due to costs of staging large scale professional shows.

- Closer links between FE/HE and the profession so that those who do not train at drama school are not seen as second class.

- More information available at schools. There was a feeling that many Drama teachers did not advise talented young people sufficiently and that those studying drama at school were not exposed to enough professional work. Also, the need for careers advisers to be made aware of the portfolio working nature of being an actor – it’s not about being a famous person!

- The key to entry points and early career development is that Drama is no longer part of the National Curriculum in Wales as it is in England. It is therefore optional for schools ie means that some children have opportunities at an early age and others do not.

- The professional industry could better embrace community/amateur theatre particularly via the Eisteddfod tradition which exposes young people to performance from an early age.

- The opportunity to learn from other cultures and experimental work was felt to be an essential part of an actor/director’s ongoing and early training.

- There is currently no central place for the exchange of ideas within the profession and something which provides an overlap between the profession, colleges and the community. This means that there are few opportunities to share new experiences etc.

author:Firenza Guidi / Arts Training Wales

original source: Arts Training Wales
01 May 2003

 

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