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Here comes the summer (school): training for all ages and abilities

Students on the West End Stage summer school Students on the West End Stage summer school
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From ages 4 to 94, whether aspiring to be an actor, director, opera singer or dancer, if you want to study Greek tragedy or musical theatre, there is a summer school for you. Susan Elkin rounds up the available training


Summer schools are big business. Semi-professional companies such as Dorset Opera Festival, regional theatres and drama schools such as Guildford School of Acting are all at it. So are local dance schools and stage school franchises.

For many companies and organisations, they act as an income stream that cross-subsidises other aspects of the work. And across the eclectic range they provide a lot of useful work for actors, facilitators and backstage professionals.

From a consumer point of view, they offer a wealth of opportunity for acquiring or honing skills. You can, for example, do almost any sort of drama at a summer school from Greek theatre to Shakespeare and all the way to 21st-century playwrights as well as, of course, the ever-popular musical theatre.

Or look out for summer schools offering stage management, scenic art, circus skills, comedy, writing and directing – among many other options. There are plenty of courses in instrumental music and singing too if that’s what interests you.

Actor and drama teacher Sarah Pavlovs, who recently appeared in Starbuck Theatre
Company’s Mob Wife: A Mafia Comedy at Cockpit Theatre, is a good example of an industry professional who also runs summer schools. She founded the Worcestershire-based Starbuck Theatre in 2014.

“There are two strands to our work,” she says. “On the one hand, we’re a professional performance company staging new work and, on the other, we run a youth theatre.” Last year, working with her assistant Sam James, she ran a one-week summer school for 4-18 year olds. “And it went so well we’re repeating it for 2019 – this time for 4-21 year olds from July 30 to August 3.”

Based at Aston Fields Middle School in Bromsgrove, the Starbuck Theatre summer school allows participants to workshop a different musical every day, leading to a performance on the Friday. “It costs £90 for the full week or £20 per day,” says Pavlovs, who works hard to keep costs affordable, which is partly why she doesn’t want to be part of a franchise.

The Musical Theatre Academy, based at Bernie Grant Arts Centre in Tottenham, offers another option for over-16s. This five-day 9am-5pm course runs from July 22-26.

Where can I pursue drama training outside London?

Summer-school teaching at MTA is by the school’s regular staff, all of whom are industry professionals. West End workshops and tickets are included in the £400 fee. And if you like what you get, you can audition free (and that’s an unusual full-day experience) for a full-time place within 12 months of attending the course.

Want ‘pure’ acting? If you’re over 16, and dedicated, consider the annual four-week Shakespeare School at RADA. It runs from July 17 until August 9 at a non-residential fee of £3,035. It is taught at RADA’s headquarters near Gower Street tube station in central London.

According to RADA’s website, its Shakespeare Summer School investigates the playwright’s works from an actor’s point of view. “An invaluable resource for performers of all ages and experiences”, it is RADA’s longest-running short course, which launched more than 35 years ago.

Most summer schools are self-funded, but  this year Candoco Dance Company has teamed up with the online clothing company ASOS to provide a two-week free course for disabled and non-disabled dancers from diverse backgrounds, aged 18-30.

“There is so much physical talent and artistic potential among young disabled and non-disabled adults,” says Charlotte Darbyshire, co-artistic director at Candoco, adding that this partnership will allow the company “to provide an unparalleled learning opportunity for these young artists”. Auditions will be held in May.

For more dance opportunities, Trinity Laban offers three bursaries for dance teachers for its 2019 dance summer school – How Movement Works (July 22 to August 2).

The summer-school industry is booming, and that’s excellent news for anyone working in the sector or wanting to.


More 2019 summer schools

West End Stage, based at London‘s Guildhall School of Music and Drama, is a high-profile one-week course for ages eight to 21, leading to an end-of-week performance on a West End stage. The three dates available are August 5-11, August 12-18 and August 19-25. It costs £595 (bring own lunch), £695 (lunch provided) or £1,090 (with accommodation). westendstage.com

The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, based in Cardiff, runs a range of summer schools including a free workshop for musicians with a visual impairment from August 6-8; a week-long opera workshop with Donald Maxwell for over-18s from August 20-24; (£458) and, for under-16s, Theatre Workshop summer camps from July 30 to August 3 (£199). rwcmd.ac.uk

Trinity Theatre Tunbridge Wells runs youth theatre related courses all year round but this year is also staging the schools version of Sweeney Todd on August 9 and 10, preceded by an intensive summer school week of rehearsals from August 5-9. It is seeking young orchestra players, to play alongside professionals, as well as cast. All auditions are on May 26 and 27. trinitytheatre.net/participate/youth

Introduction to Drama School is taught in west London by LAMDA faculty to students over 16. This includes voice, movement, singing, acting and play building. It is a two-week course from July 22 to August 2 (£991). One of a range of LAMDA short courses. lamda.org.uk

The Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts 4-19 school has its usual five week-long courses running through August based at LIPA’s main site in Liverpool city centre and variously priced between £120 and £160. The school has up to one free place available on each week for students aged 13 and over who are from neighbourhoods where participation in higher education is low. The school automatically assesses the applicant’s postcode to determine whether they are eligible for one of the free places. These are then allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. 419summerschools@lipa.ac.uk

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow offers more than 70 summer schools including (for adults) acting for camera, directing for theatre and design for set and costume, as well as lots of courses for children – especially in instrumental music. rcs.ac.uk


Go to: starbucktheatrecompany.co.uk; themta.co.uk; rada.ac.uk; candoco.co.uk; trinitylaban.ac.uk for more information

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