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Ambassador Theatre Group Creative Learning: Developing the next generation of theatre practitioners

With 47 theatres throughout the UK, in the United States and Australia, the Ambassador Theatre Group can claim a broad international reach in the provision of live entertainment. Alongside this is a need for young managerial and technical talent. Add into the equation its successful producing arm and its ticketing and marketing agencies, and ATG becomes an even more substantial proposition. One that positions it as one of the industry’s largest employers.

With a UK workforce of around 3,500 employees and a growing portfolio of theatres at home and abroad, ATG is committed to developing the theatre audiences of tomorrow in an extensive programme of participatory work designed to promote enjoyment and develop appreciation of theatre. It is also a world leader in developing new managerial and backstage talent through its extensive Creative Learning programme.

An established feature of ATG’s operations, over the course of a year Creative Learning can boast more than 70,000 participants of all ages and abilities throughout the UK. They are involved in projects designed to make theatre seem not just more approachable to those who might never have set foot in one, but also to showcase it as an exciting and fulfilling industry in which to build a career.

A variety of programmes – from careers event days in schools to backstage visits, workshops and work experience placements – all seek to make the theatre seem approachable, both as a source of entertainment and of employment.

Performance at Go Dance, Theatre Royal Glasgow, a festival of work from dance schools, colleges, community groups and emerging artists

More significant for those keen to work in the industry (and, indeed, for some who already are) is the opportunity to learn and develop skills and talents that will enable them to become part of the next generation of theatremakers and managers.

For Karen Townsend, ATG’s head of learning and access, the company’s extensive scheme goes to the very heart of its ethos.

ATG genuinely believes everyone has the right to experience live theatre

“ATG genuinely believes that everyone has the right to experience live theatre. We recognise that there can be all sorts of barriers to attending theatre and that thinking of a career in theatre for some seems a distant notion.”

She adds: “Our Creative Learning department seeks to connect our theatres to their local communities and to offer the opportunity for anyone interested in working in theatre to get involved in, and learn within, a ‘real-world’ experience.”

With venues as far afield as Birmingham and Brighton, Southport and Sunderland, Glasgow and London’s West End, there are, says Townsend, “a myriad of opportunities, all tailored to the individual needs of each theatre and its local community”.

“Our ‘real-world’ learning opportunities start with the company’s work experience programmes and extend to our range of paid training schemes,” adds Cate Gordon, who looks after ATG’s work-related training activities.

Paid internships, for example, have already ushered many participants into full-time employment with ATG. Recruiting four times a year, it employs up to 13 interns at the company’s London headquarters.

“Lots of theatre companies employ interns but often only on a temporary basis and not necessarily linked to further employment opportunities. ATG interns get a broad grounding in how the company works that provides invaluable learning both for their understanding of the industry and for progression into their next role. There are real opportunities to work with us after the internship is over.”

Lasting 13 weeks, the programme includes spells in various departments including operations (responsible for the upkeep and management of ATG’s theatres and its customer-facing activities), ticketing, production, programming and the executive office.

“By the time you’ve finished your internship, you’ve seen almost every job within ATG and gained an understanding of how they all fit together and contribute to making theatre,” explains Gordon.

If she stops short of describing it as a ‘win-win’ scenario for all concerned, she nonetheless acknowledges “the huge benefits it accrues to the interns and to the company as a whole”.

Theatre needs new blood and new ideas. We’re looking for future leaders of the industry

Tellingly, she adds: “Theatre needs new blood, new talent, new ideas coming through in management, and in backstage and front-of-house roles just as much as it needs new audiences.”

It’s the hidden organisational business behind the public face of showbusiness that ATG’s Graduate Scheme is intended to address. Focused on senior theatre management roles, it offers two-year paid placements to postgraduates throughout its 38 theatres in England and Scotland.

ATG’s ambition for the scheme is simple and ambitious, says Gordon: “We’re looking for future leaders of the industry. Our vision is that after successfully completing the scheme, graduates will one day become senior leaders at ATG.”

Launched in 2013, the scheme sees participants working in London and on three- and six-month-long placements in four of ATG’s regional and West End theatres. Competition is fierce, though, for just two positions each year.

“We – and the industry as a whole – will benefit from a more diverse workforce. Being fast-tracked through so many different situations is a real challenge for our graduates, but we’ve found that they make a real difference to what we do. That’s why it’s important for us to offer paid training opportunities.”

Most striking about its Creative Learning programme overall, Townsend adds, is ATG’s attitude towards what it represents for both its participants and the company itself.

“We take it exceptionally seriously. We see it as an investment in finding the industry professional of the future. We’re working from the ground up to develop tomorrow’s managers, programmers and back-office support.”

New Wimbledon Theatre’s Changing Minds mental health project in local schools

And tomorrow’s stage managers and lighting and sound operators – a crucial aspect of theatremaking hidden from public view but no less essential for that – are the very people that ATG’s Technical Apprenticeships are designed to address.

“As a company, we need to anticipate future skills gaps and ensure we attract appropriately skilled technicians who understand our venues and programmes, especially as the technology continues to change almost by the day. Training our own apprentices is an efficient way to achieve this, and at the same time supports people to get their first paid role in the industry.”

Starting in September each year, the 12-month scheme provides a minimum of 30 hours of paid employment alongside working towards a Level 3 qualification assessed by the National College for the Creative and Cultural Industries.

Apprentices can expect to work in one of ATG’s venues on a wide variety of shows and events, and undertake industry-specific training courses both from ATG technicians and external companies. During their apprenticeship, participants will typically spend 80% of their time learning ‘on the job’, with the remainder of their time on training courses.

“It’s an enormous learning curve that sees training in situ with a wide variety of productions – from a comedy one-nighter to a huge touring play or musical,” says Gordon approvingly.

This company-wide commitment also extends to ATG’s international operations, where a wealth of opportunities are available; from the part-time internship program for theatre business administration majors at the Lyric Theatre on Broadway to the work of the Las Casas Foundation in San Antonio, Texas. At the city’s Majestic Theatre and Charline McCombs Empire Theatre, scholarships are offered to those in the local community able to demonstrate excellence in the performing arts.

ATG acquired the Emerson Colonial Theatre (part of liberal arts school Emerson College) in Boston, Massachusetts in recent weeks, expanding its portfolio of American theatres to eight. This acquisition will see the establishment of the Emerson Colonial Endowment in a partnership between ATG and the college to provide experiential learning opportunities for Emerson students.

For Townsend, ATG’s commitment to Creative Learning all adds up to a simple proposition: “You have to invest in developing a future audience, and you also have to invest in the next generation of industry leaders.”

atgtickets.com [1]

Further information

For further information about ATG’s Creative Learning programme and employment opportunities, see:

creativelearning.atg.co.uk [2]

atgtickets.com/graduatescheme [3]

creativelearning.atg.co.uk/work-experienceplacements [4]

atgtickets.com/technicalapprenticeships [5]

atgtickets.com/officeinternship [6]