Schools in for summer
If you want to try out performing arts training or to top up your skills, consider a short course. About 40 years ago, someone came up with the idea of offering short, intensive training – mostly in the traditional summer holiday months but also at Easter – for actors wanting to develop skills or acquire new ones, for children hungry for more training and for almost anyone, including amateurs and irrespective of age, wanting to dip a toe into relatively affordable performing arts waters.
The idea has caught on. Almost every stage and drama school now offers summer classes or a range of them at different levels. Some are quite generally focused and others are very specific. And many other organisations such as performing arts venues, stage schools, youth theatre providers and so on offer them too. This is the 17th annual summer schools feature I have written for The Stage, and the growth in the range of opportunities during that time is remarkable. For instance, courses in backstage work are ever more prominent, as are performance-based classes. This is encouraging, given the job opportunities and skills shortages in some non-performance areas.
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama, for example, has no fewer than 10 new summer schools this year, making a total of 28, although some of those relate to pure music rather than wider performing arts. New courses include drama for ages 16-17, costume for stage and screen, practical theatre sound, stage management and hair and make-up. Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts meanwhile has added short summer courses in wardrobe and stage management for amateurs to its already extensive provision. And Joanna Read, principal of LAMDA, told me recently that once its £16 million new building is open next year there are plans to offer more summer schools.
Yes, of course, summer schools are lucrative for many of these providers and are a useful business to supplement what they do for the rest of the year. But the expansion is good news for the purchasers of this training too because it ensures such a wealth of choice.
“The great thing for me,” says Lucy Rahim, 21, who has attended three musical theatre summer schools at Mountview, “is that you are taught by working theatre professionals – the same people who teach on the full-time courses – and it’s very different from any drama you’ve done at school.”
Currently in her final year of a degree in English Literature and Italian at Durham University, Rahim is determined on a career in theatre, possibly on the production side. “I’ve always been passionate about
theatre, so I did my first under-16 summer school at Mountview in 2007 and then went back for more in 2010 and 2014, as well as doing Saturday school there. It has certainly helped me to work out what I want to do professionally,” she says.
Cassie McCluskie, 18, is another committed enthusiast with serious ambitions honed by summer school. She did a “children’s” musical theatre summer school at Mountview in 2013 and returned a year later. “I loved it,” she says. “It felt like being at drama school and I came out a different person at the end.”
Now totally convinced that performing arts is the career she wants, McCluskie is busy completing a BTec at college in her native Cumbria this summer and looking forward eagerly to her next step. “I have a recall for the Mountview foundation course, and that’s where all my hopes are pinned, but I’ve also been offered a place at Arden School of Theatre, part of Manchester College, on its three-year BA (hons) course in musical theatre.”
For McCluskie, summer school was a clincher. She explains: “I was very nervous, but the big thing is that it shows you whether or not performing arts is for you and whether you can really do it. I went with a friend from home. Although she had a good time by the end of the course, she decided that she really didn’t want to do this professionally. And that’s a really useful bit of learning, too.”
Rahim and McCluskie both attended their first summer schools as children and there is, as ever, a terrific range of summer schools for under 16s. For instance, Pauline Quirke Academy branches run summer schools in Leicester, Milton Keynes, Hertford, Rochester, Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells. Details of times and curriculums vary. Some of these cater, in different groups, for the youngest children, aged three to six, as well as seven to 18 year-olds.
For another example, take the highly esteemed full-time Sylvia Young Theatre School. It also runs two one-week good, popular holiday courses in its spacious building off Edgware Road in London. The two options are music theatre and theatre skills. Each course is run more than once in different weeks with teaching by the school’s regular staff.
Outside London, options include the Poole-based Dorset School of Acting, which this summer is offering two concurrent summer schools for ages eight-13 and 14-21 with the aim of mounting a production of Grease in a week. Theatre Royal, Newcastle is busy engaging children this summer too with play-in-a-week options for ages five to seven, eight to 11 and 12 to 16, as well as a five-day film challenge, musical theatre for ages 11-15 and other courses.
So it really doesn’t matter how old you are, whether or not you have any performance experience or how far along your career path you are. If you want to work hard, enjoy yourself, assess your own ambition and potential and learn a lot, apply for a summer school.
“It is just fantastic to spend a week or two with like-minded people and be taught by inspirational staff,” says Rahim.