Making drama school training more approachable

LAMDA performers in rehearsal. Photograph: Hubert Smith
LAMDA performers in rehearsal. Photograph: Hubert Smith
Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin is a journalist specialising in training and education.
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Drama schools are often accused – not always fairly – of being full of privileged students whose families can afford to fund them. LAMDA, for one, is working hard to make sure drama school is as inclusive as possible and last year appointed Rhiannon Fisher, its first access and widening participation officer.

And in her first nine months Fisher has certainly made things happen. LAMDA runs a two year Foundation Degree course in acting and last month its final year students (known as E2s) took two Shakespeare plays into London schools – four in Hammersmith, where LAMDA is based, and four more elsewhere in London.

“The idea was to use our E2s’ first public production as a way of introducing secondary school students to Shakespeare. The students were split into two companies, one of which did Macbeth and one Twelfth Night so they covered four schools each,” Fisher tells me, adding that each performance runs for 90 minutes followed by a question and answer session with the cast.

And that Q/A is vital. It allows audience members not only to ask questions about the play and acting those roles but also about vocational drama training in general and LAMDA in particular – the very information which so often fails to get into schools because, on the whole, it is outside the experience of teachers and careers advisers.  433 pupils saw the shows last month and 269 took part in the Q/A sessions.

At the same time, of course, the project has to work effectively as part of the training and curriculum of LAMDA’s E2 students. Fisher is confident that it does, so everybody gains. She is already planning to repeat the project in 2014 by building on the solid base of what was achieved in 2013 and learning from it.  “We shall go on working with the same schools but would like to focus more on our own borough this time,” says Fisher, adding that the variation in the playing space at the different schools is excellent touring experience for LAMDA’s E2 students.

The other initiative which Fisher is leading is a commendable attempt to reach the minority groups who might not consider drama school. LAMDA regularly auditions in various cities across the UK and has now established partnerships with arts organisations in Bristol, Birmingham and Manchester.

During the next few weeks LAMDA will run three hour workshops in these three cities for underprivileged young people aged 14-25 – typically the ones the partner organisations are already working with. “LAMDA tutors lead with a current student and a recent graduate in attendance so there’s plenty of opportunity to find out about vocational training. And some of these young people may be able to benefit from our audition fee waiver scheme if they decide to apply,” says Fisher, who is hoping to take these workshops to six cities in 2015.