How can we support the work of small training organisations?

Jason Phelps and Jessamy James in Cygnet Training Theatre's Jane Eyre. Photo: John Saunders
Jason Phelps and Jessamy James in Cygnet Training Theatre's Jane Eyre. Photo: John Saunders
Susan Elkin
Susan is Education and Training Editor at The Stage
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I’ve had an idea. Well two, actually. And the last time I had one it triggered the merger of Conference of Drama Schools and National Council of Drama Training to form Drama UK  so I hope all you chaps are listening – again.

Last week I went to Exeter (many hours on trains chuntering past the lake-like fields of Somerset and Devon, notwithstanding) to visit Cygnet Training Theatre . It is very tiny but has a fine reputation and – of which more in a forthcoming article for The Stage – I wanted to see for myself exactly how it works, what it achieves and, above all, to talk to its students.

I was impressed with what I found and saw there but came away wondering how on earth Cygnet, and other small, but high quality, providers of vocational training are supposed to keep themselves on the map if they cannot afford the high cost of signing up to one of the accrediting organisations. Drama UK, for example, now charges £6,500 for accreditation.

So here’s my first idea. Why couldn’t the accrediting organisations charge variable fees according the number of students in the school, college or other training institution?  A school such as Central  – to pick one of the large ones at random – has hundreds of students on its wide range of courses. Surely, it could and should, be charged a much higher fee for accreditation than Cygnet which is currently working with just seven?  Dorset School of Acting , based in Poole, is another fine school working with very small numbers and successful training outfits such as Fourth Monkey  (a new Stage Scholarships partner this year) are not all that large. At present high fees to join the big groups mean that the work of smaller providers can very easily go unnoticed.

In effect I’m suggesting that if there were some kind of funding formula for accreditation then the big, well-funded school could support the smaller, poorer ones – provided that the quality of the training is up to scratch.

Secondly I think there’s scope for the smaller, independent training organisations to set up an information website and some quality assurance of their own and amongst themselves.  Association of Small Performing Arts Trainers (ASPAT) perhaps?

Trained actors are bright, enterprising people. A team of them could run the website and, perhaps, provide other information services on behalf of the schools who could pay them a modest fee - but much less than they’d have to pay a major accrediting organisation. That way there’s industry relevant work for resting actors (a big team with some on standby would ensure that it ran properly even when some of them have acting work) and a decent service for schools outside the mainstream. Win win.

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