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Industry figures back campaign to save historic drama course

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Former teachers at Morley College have spoken of their disgust at plans to close the institution’s famous drama course, which was set up by Emma Cons and Lilian Baylis at the Old Vic in the 1880s.

The college says it needs to cut costs after recording a deficit in last year’s budget and wants to put the drama department’s studio theatre to other uses.

John Cox, former Scottish Opera artistic director and director of productions at the Royal Opera House and Glyndebourne, ran the course in the sixties. He told The Stage: “This course has a great theatrical history and it would be a tragedy to see it go. The fact that the South Bank now is a major cultural venue goes back to the efforts of the same people who set up the college, who also founded the Old Vic.

“If it was properly valued and funded it would still have a very important part to play for young people who are interested in the art of acting. It seems there has been a failure of will and a failure of nerve at Morley College.”

Ewan Hooper, former artistic director of Greenwich Theatre, who also taught at the institution, said the course, which teaches around 200 students per year, was an important stepping stone for young people interested in going to drama school and helped raise awareness of theatre among people who otherwise would not come into contact with it.

“It’s a great shame this action is being taken,” he said. “You can understand they are in difficulties financially, but it seems drastic to cut the entire course, particularly the drama course. I don’t think they have tried hard enough.” Meanwhile, messages of support for the course have come from industry figures such as Ken Loach, Richard Wilson and Kevin Spacey.

The college cited low student numbers, the large amount of space required by the department and the existence of alternative provision in central London, including courses at City Lit, as reasons for choosing to close the course.

A statement sent out to students said: “The college needs to find expenditure savings. The current year’s budget is a deficit budget and that cannot continue, given the Learning and Skills Council’s accounting rules. The college has already pared administration costs with its recent restructuring of senior management posts. The college considers that the proposals are the least worst options.”

In response, campaigners are urging supporters of the college to write to principal Philip Meaden and funding body the Learning and Skills Council to protest at the plans. Meanwhile, pupils have taken part in a film describing the importance of the course to them and an online petition has been set up at www.savemorleydrama.co.uk

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