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Guildford School of Acting course restructure under fire from ex-students

Guildford School of Acting

Eighty former students of Guildford School of Acting have signed an open letter demanding answers about why its foundation course was restructured last year.

Former tutor Katie Bonna previously raised concerns [1] that the course was being turned into an “increasingly corporate environment” after the restructuring, which saw three employees who taught on the foundation on temporary contracts, including Bonna, told they would not be returning to teach on this year’s course.

The restructure saw two new staff members, Gerry Tebbutt and Michael Toumey, appointed to lead the musical theatre and acting strands of the course, following the departure of former course leader Andy Sullivan.

At the time, Bonna said she believed the focus of the course would 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”.

GSA responded to these claims, arguing that two specialists were appointed to lead the programme through a “fair and open recruitment programme” and that its programme “aims to bridge the gap between experience and ability, enabling students to demonstrate their full talent and potential in drama school auditions”.

Bonna is behind the current open letter, addressed to the head of GSA Sean McNamara and head of acting and performance Trevor Rawlins, in which she says she is “dissatisfied” with GSA’s previous responses to concerns about the course restructuring.

In the letter, she wrote: “The point I wish to make here, is that myself and the other core Foundation course tutors, were by far the most experienced and therefore specialist teachers for this course at that time.

“You decided not to replace us with foundation course specialists, but with (unquestionably) experienced teachers, who do not specialise in this very specific area of teaching.”

She added: “My question to you, is why? Why did you decide to replace the teaching staff and content of a uniquely strong course? One which should have been celebrated by GSA rather than disassembled?”

Bonna wrote that the course was “important and special”, and that she could not understand how the  restructuring “had the students’ best interests at heart”.

“I do not know if the decision was taken for financial reasons or pressures from the university, but I do think you have a responsibility to be honest about the thinking behind it,” she stated in the letter.

Eighty former students and former tutor Gemma Arrowsmith have signed the letter and commented on their experiences of the foundation course.

Writer and actor Arrowsmith said: “I want to know why the GSA foundation course, on which I taught, has been fundamentally restructured.

“I have taught on a few foundation courses at various drama schools and the quality of both the MT and Acting foundation courses at GSA was exemplary. Instead of focusing on getting students to pass auditions, it strove to create better actors.”

McNamara, head of GSA, said: “As one of the creators of the foundation course, with former foundation programme leader Andy Sullivan, I’m immensely proud of its achievements.

“It has been delivered successfully since 2011 and continues to provide a great platform from which students can progress and develop their training.”