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Which postgraduate drama course is best for you?

Students on the site-specific course at Mountview, at Shoreditch Town Hall Students on the site-specific course at Mountview, at Shoreditch Town Hall
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Are you a non-drama student who has decided that a theatre career is for you? Are you an actor looking for focused training? A postgraduate course may be the answer. Susan Elkin looks at some new options from universities and theatre companies


Postgraduate courses for aspiring performers are now well established in most drama schools and universities. Typically, they are undertaken by those who have completed a degree in something else but want a performance career, or by actors in search of in-depth professional development.

There are, however, some interesting new and recent offerings in surrounding fields such as directing, producing, theatre practice and the like. Some of these are collaboratively run by theatre companies, although they must be validated by a degree-awarding organisation. Others, in the traditional way, are offered by drama schools, universities and other higher-education institutions.

Most, whether they are postgraduate diploma courses, masters degrees (MA – Master of Arts – or MFA – Master of Fine Arts) or doctorates, can be taken as full or part-time options. In some cases, part of the course can be done by distance learning so that you are not confined to an institution near your base.

Theatre companies that have launched MAs recently:

Orange Tree Theatre

Now in its second year, the MA in directing offered by St Mary’s University in Twickenham in association with the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond aims to combine the best of both worlds. You learn practical skills via a placement in a working theatre, while the academic background is taught at the university. The venue has an illustrious history in director training, having run an in-house placement scheme for more than 30 years.

“Three of the country’s major artistic directors trained here so the Orange Tree has certainly been getting something right,” says the venue’s artistic director Paul Miller, mentioning Dominic Hill at Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre, Timothy Sheader at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre and Sean Holmes at the Lyric Hammersmith.

Royal Shakespeare Company

The RSC collaborates with the University of Birmingham and Shakespeare Institute on the postgraduate programme Shakespeare and Creativity, which launched in 2013. It is delivered by the Shakespeare Institute but two of the four core modules, The Shakespeare Ensemble and Shakespeare and Society, feature tuition by RSC staff mainly at the Other Place, which was reopened in 2016 year as the company’s creative hub for rehearsal, training, learning and research.

The Shakespeare and Society module culminates in a piece of civic creativity that is performed at the RSC. Unusually, this MA is available only as a one-year full-time option. A parallel programme over a longer period leads to a PhD.

ZU-UK

For something rather different, you might consider ZU-UK (formed from a merger of Para Active and Zecora Ura), the creator of groundbreaking theatrical work and education projects since 1998. It launched an MA in association with University of East London in September 2016.

The course focuses on ZU-UK’s three main approaches: participatory rituals, immersive environments and interactive game play. It includes examination of the components and challenges of participatory work including responsibility towards audiences, depth of experience and the balance between facilitated participation and intense theatricality. The methodology also breaks down features of ZU-UK’s work in terms of artistic craft and technique in hosting audiences.

Drama schools and universities offering new MAs:

Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts

Mountview is planning two new MA programmes from next year. By then it will have relocated to its purpose-built new premises in Peckham, south London. Subject to validation by the University of East Anglia, with which Mountview collaborates, there will be an MA in Site-Specific Theatre Practice with entry from January 2019 and an MA in Theatre, Community and Education to start in May 2019. And that’s in addition to the two new MAs the school launched two years ago – in Creative Producing and Musical Direction.

Rose Bruford College

Postgraduate developments are in full swing at Rose Bruford, too. Its new MA/MFA in Actor Musicianship, led by Jeremy Harrison, starts this autumn – so applications are open now. And that is in addition to an MA in Devised Theatre and Performance and the Advanced Devising Practice MA/MFA, which are in their first year.

Rose Bruford has launched a new Actor Musicianship MA/MFA programme. Photo: Benjamin Wilkin
Rose Bruford has launched a new Actor Musicianship MA/MFA programme. Photo: Benjamin Wilkin

University of Birmingham

Birmingham Uni has a new postgraduate programme entitled Drama and Theatre Studies Practice-based PhD/MA by Research (Through Dramaturgy, Playwriting or Performance). It claims to offer the opportunity for academic research through practical research that will “prepare you for your chosen profession”. Trish McTighe (t.mctighe@bham.ac.uk) is the first point of contact.

Royal Holloway, University of London

Launched in 2013, the Contemporary Performance Practices MA at Royal Holloway “combines diverse approaches to making and documenting performance”. Students work with innovative practitioners such as Jasmin Vardimon and Theatre Ad Infinitum.

Financial support

Postgraduate study is becoming ever more diverse, with many more creative options than there were even five years ago. And such courses are more accessible than formerly since the government introduced its loan scheme for postgraduate training in 2016. You can now borrow £10,280 irrespective of whether the course is part-time or full-time, and distance learning is included. As with undergraduate student loans, none of this money needs to be paid back until you reach the £21,000 per year income threshold.

Look for training opportunities on The Stage website

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