Fourth Monkey business

Susan Elkin
Susan is Education and Training Editor at The Stage
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I first visited and wrote about Fourth Monkey Theatre Company for The Stage a year ago. Since then things have moved on and it was congenial fun as well as being informative to revisit last week for an update.

First they have moved some of the operation to Jackson’s Lane where the students have the benefit of classes and some performances in what Steven Green describes as “a living breathing space.” I sat in on a first year clowning class at Jackson’s Lane, in that lovely spacious upstairs studio, charismatically led by Mitch Mitchelson, one of the many practitioners Green and his colleagues bring in regularly to work with students.

Second I am very taken with Fourth Monkey’s Marlowe Project in collaboration with Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, the Marlowe Society and University of Kent at Canterbury. 2014 is the 450th anniversary of Christopher Marlowe’s birth – in Canterbury.

“Our second year students are doing a rep season of three plays in March: Massacre at Paris, Faustus and The Jew of Malta in Canterbury with three different directors. The first is in the Cathedral crypt and the other two in the Marlowe’s studio theatre” Green tells me, adding that this is effectively a short tour in which each student will appear in two plays. “It’s excellent experience and training” he says.

The full time, two year course (£7,500 per year which includes a month in Italy training in Commedia del Arte and work at Edinburgh) provides at least 40 hours per week of training and is now based mostly at Jackson’s Lane, with some classes in a nearby overspill space. There is room for 30 in each year – 60 students overall – but almost all the teaching is in groups of 15.

Fourth Monkey’s original one year course “The Year of the Monkey” – which can accommodate two groups of 27 - begins part-time with 20 hours a week and builds through the year to 25/30. The fee for this is £4,550 for the year. “Some people see this as a foundation course and although we don’t see it quite in those terms, quite a few of the students who complete it do go on to drama school – or audition for our two year course,” Green tells me.

It certainly seems good value and there’s a lot going on. Next year, for example students will be working on The Kitchen, Vinegar Tom and Iceman as well as taking a Punchdrunk-style Alice to Edinburgh.

And at the end of it all Green aims to be able to form a professional company undertaking paid work and he already has a show lined up for next year’s graduates in autumn 2014.

The trouble is, of course, that because this training is not accredited, there is no funding. “Many of our students are post-graduate age and are self-funding” says Green. “A number are using career development loans from banks and we are managing to offer three part-scholarships for the two year course.”

Perhaps this is proof – if we needed any – that, although every performer needs some form of training, it doesn’t necessarily have to be two or three years in drama school. There are many routes to skills acquisition and one size definitely doesn’t fit all.