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Guildhall vice principal Ben Sumner: ‘There are lots of good jobs out there for people interested in backstage careers’

Ben Sumner. Photo: Guildhall School Ben Sumner. Photo: Guildhall School
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How did you start off in theatre?

A two-year diploma in stage management at Central School of Speech and Drama, then into repertory theatre. Initially I worked as an assistant stage manager, but experienced most of the backstage roles at one time or another.

What is the best piece of advice you have for students today?

You get out what you put in. At a good school you have access to some amazing facilities and people who really care about you and want you to succeed. Make the most of that opportunity while you have it.

What would you change about UK training?

The fees. In an ideal world, I would love us to be in a position where we didn’t have to charge. I strongly believe that higher education should be accessible to all.

What is the best part of your job?

Working with enthusiastic, talented students and staff and feeling I’ve made a positive contribution to their future. Our Technical Theatre Arts Graduate Exhibition (June 6-7) is always a highlight. It’s an opportunity for graduating students to showcase their outstanding work to the industry and public.

And your least favourite?

The paperwork.

Which practitioners do you admire the most?

I’m a great fan of companies like Complicite and Punchdrunk.

What is the one skill every successful theatre professional should have?

Being a good collaborator. One of my students once said to me: “I want to be the sort of person that people want to work with again.” I think that sums it up.

How can we encourage more people to consider technical training?

This is definitely something we’re grappling with. There are lots of good jobs out there for people interested in backstage careers and we think there’s lots of untapped potential. This is a message I would really like to get out to drama teachers in secondary schools.

Read more stories about Guildhall School

Ben Sumner was talking to John Byrne

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