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Former tutor accuses Guildford School of Acting of becoming “increasingly corporate” after foundation course overhaul

More than 550 readers voted in The Stage poll on casting. Photo: Sean De Burca/Shutterstock Students may chose the wrong audition pieces or are nervous and do not present their best work
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The Guildford School of Acting’s foundation course has been restructured, raising concerns from a former tutor it is being turned into “an increasingly corporate environment”.

Two new staff members, Gerry Tebbutt and Michael Toumey, have been appointed to lead the musical theatre and acting strands of the course, following the departure of former course leader Andy Sullivan.

However three employees who previously worked on the foundation course on temporary contracts will not be returning to teach on this year’s course as it stands.

One of these is former acting tutor Katie Bonna, who has worked on the course for five years on a temporary basis. She told The Stage that she recently found out she would not be employed on the course again this year.

A GSA spokesman has confirmed that due to a restructuring, Bonna and two other employees on temporary contracts will not be returning to teach on the course, although he claimed that the school “has not appointed all teaching roles, so cannot say anyone will no longer be returning” for definite.

Writing in a blog post, Bonna, who also trained at GSA, said: “I started teaching at the school when the foundation course began, in 2011. The course was designed to give a one-year foundational training to students who either felt they weren’t ready for a BA course or who hadn’t succeeded in gaining a place on one.

“By this point, the school had changed a lot from my old stomping ground. Absorbed into a university, with a custom-designed building, it was tinged with a corporate, academic feel. Despite my unease with the university/drama school juxtaposition, I felt that it was the same school.

“It became clear early on that none of us [teachers] were interested in treating the course as a way to merely get students into drama school. How could any of us morally work like that? Taking students’ money and giving no training, no craft, in return? Offering only the empty promise of a drama school place? It seemed ludicrous and against our beliefs as teachers. So we taught acting. Detail. Listening. Playing. Craft. And it worked.”

Bonna added that she believes the focus of the course will now be solely to “get students onto a BA drama school course” and that “it will be impossible to provide the same level of training and personal development” once those structural changes are in place.

She added: “I have already watched my students become more white and more privileged during the past five years, thanks to government cuts. Recently, I have spent days marking written work, being forced to mark students down who are disciplined, joyful actors, but don’t have the skills to write an essay. Now, to watch a tiny corner of passion, power and creativity be squeezed out of what feels like an increasingly corporate environment, is heart-breaking.

“I cannot presume to know why these decisions are being made. I can and will only assume that these decisions are being made with the belief they will benefit the students, with their best interests at heart. I just cannot see how taking away something so good, can ever be anything but bad.”

A GSA spokesman said that while he was unable to comment on individual cases, he could confirm that the school had “employed temporary contractors to deliver elements of the programme”, but had now “decided to appoint two specialist to oversee and lead the programmes this year” which was done through a “fair and open recruitment process”.

A statement from GSA in response to the concerns said: “We’re proud of the fact that the course provides students with the skills to achieve their ambitions.

“Every year gifted students miss out on a place at drama school. This is not because they are lacking talent, but rather that they chose the wrong audition pieces or are nervous and do not present their best work. In these cases it is their craft that is lacking rather than their ability.

“Our programme aims to bridge the gap between experience and ability, enabling students to demonstrate their full talent and potential in drama school auditions.”

Sean McNamara, head of the GSA, added: “We’re really excited about the new academic year across all of our courses and, in particular, the new direction in which we have decided to take our foundation course.

“We thank Andy Sullivan [former foundation course leader] for all the hard work and dedication he has given to the foundation course over the past five years and wish him well in the next stage of his career.

“We are very excited at having two specialists in Gerry Tebbutt and Michael Toumey, who bring more than 80 years of experience to the roles musical theatre and acting respectively.”

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