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Training providers should ape Fourth Monkey’s innovative approach

Scott McGarrick and Daniel Chrisostomou in Fourth Monkey Ensemble’s touring production of Elephant Man. Photo: Anthony Hollis
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Fourth Monkey Theatre Company is on the road with a touring production of The Elephant Man. So far, so normal. But this is more than just another touring company and it strikes me that they have a rather interesting way of working.

Fourth Monkey is predominantly a training company started by 41-year-old former actor Steve Green after taking a youth group to Edinburgh in 2011 with a successful production of A Clockwork Orange. Wanting to offer a more sustained form of training he founded the rep-style The Year of the Monkey offering a one-year performance-based training course. He now also runs a two-year course to which some “monkeys”, as he calls them, can progress. Today the company is based in north London’s Jackson’s Lane.

It was always Green’s ambition to start a professional ensemble company which would offer paid work to his new graduates – and this year he has been able to do exactly that. Arts Council England funding means that all actors have Equity contracts. The Elephant Man has embarked on a 35-date tour which includes Barnstaple, Dorchester, Jersey and Mansfield. Green is particularly pleased to have taken it to the Studio at Derby Theatre and to be going to the Marlowe Studio in Canterbury in March 2015.

Earlier this year, students on Green’s two-year course – some of whom are now appearing in The Elephant Man as professionals – took part in a season of three plays by Christopher Marlowe in collaboration with the Marlowe Theatre to commemorate the playwright’s 400th anniversary. So there should be a sense of homecoming when they return in February. And it would be nice to think that their fine work in the spring will bring some of the same audience back to see more.

Green is hoping to repeat this annually so that when the students finish the course some, if they want it, have an in-house professional job. Not a bad way to start a career – a seamless move into paid work with people you already know – and I can’t help wondering whether other training providers might be able to offer something similar?

Or, if you’re looking for training and you like the sound of the Fourth Monkey approach, enrolment is already open for September 2015. This is, of course, outside Drama UK accreditation so students have to pay their own fees. There were, however, scholarships offered this year through The Stage scheme and will be again next year. Green advises his potential monkeys how to access career development loans which can help with fees and he offers a range of payment structures to make it as manageable as possible. “And some students get bursaries from, for example, sympathetic local authorities or old school alumni funds,” he tells me.

Monkey do.

Read more training columns from Susan Elkin

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