Drama St Mary’s, Twickenham: A ‘real world’ platform for students
From its free-of-charge full-day auditions to ample rehearsal and performing facilities, Drama St Mary’s takes a holistic approach to its drama training
Just 30 minutes from the heart of London’s Theatreland, St Mary’s University, Twickenham, is a drama school with a difference. Combining the advantages and flexibility of a university with the discipline and focus of a conservatoire, it provides unmatched vocational training in acting, technical theatre and playwriting designed, says head of humanities and creative industries, Mark Griffin, “to provide students with the skills and attitude they’ll need to succeed in their careers.”
With a venerable history stretching back 165 years, St Mary’s has more than half a century experience of drama training. Today, its aim is simple: to enable its students to become the theatre workers of the future.
“From day one of their studies to the first day of their careers, we try to equip our students to be self-starters. We don’t look for a ‘type’. We’re looking for unique talent, charisma, potential, resilience; students with something to say and the desire to say it.”
Such openness has led to St Mary’s becoming one of the most diverse destinations for students. Griffin points to “16 different nationalities drawn from a huge range of backgrounds in our current first-year intake”.
Head of second-year acting Olusola Oyeleye adds that with a student intake “diverse in every single way – in terms of ability, cultural background and class – there are enormous benefits to be had”.
She adds: “It’s the world in the classroom and the curriculum is designed to be flexible so it can respond and adapt to individual students’ needs, abilities and ambition. We are looking for changemakers who will bring new creative ideas and approaches to that world and transform the industry.”
That’s a claim current third-year acting student Olivia Freeman happily vouches for.
“St Mary’s has opened so many doors for me. It finds a way of catering individually for every student and the academic side of the degree has given me a wider understanding of so much more than I thought I needed to know. I feel I have enough skills now to create my own work.”
With its full-day auditions completely free of charge and class sizes limited to a maximum of 25 for would-be actors (15 for the technical course), students, says Griffin, “can expect the best practice and rigorous training of a conservatoire within a university environment, which means their course fees are eligible for student loans, making St Mary’s completely accessible”.
For Oyeleye, the university’s integrated acting and technical theatre courses provide students with a ‘real world’ platform to explore and develop their skills and talents: “There’s no pretence about the challenges they will face. It’s about making choices and making the best of who you are.”
Tina Bicat, senior technician on the university’s unique, two-year ‘accelerated’ Technical Theatre course, succinctly describes the defining ethos as “applied learning”.
She adds: “It’s about learning craft, solving problems and realising ambition in intensive, concentrated, creative real-world situations where creative input is as crucial as practical solutions.”
With up to 30 taught hours per week, teaching staff drawn from experienced industry professionals and unmatched facilities on campus – including two theatre spaces and ample rehearsal and recording studios – Bicat also points to the advantages of St Mary’s university base, claiming “easy access to the largesse of university research resources when planning productions is a real boon.”
For Griffin, St Mary’s location and the breadth and diversity of its teaching reflects a core belief: “That our students live and work cheek by jowl with their peers on sports, business, politics, humanities and teacher training courses points to theatre’s place as part of a larger community. Theatre is about everything; it’s not just about theatre.”
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