The performing arts industry is changing, and the role of the actor is changing with it – a shift only accelerated by the events of this year as productions have moved online, theatres have been redesigned, and performers are faced with unprecedented new challenges. Actor training programmes need to reflect this evolution.
Two innovative degrees at the brand-new Bristol School of Acting do exactly that. The BA Acting for Screen and the BA Acting for Stage and Screen courses have been especially designed to equip students with the tools they will need to succeed in the post-coronavirus industry.
“Actor training has remained remarkably consistent over the past 50 years and lags behind where the industry is now,” says Stuart Wood, co-artistic director of the school. “There are lots of fantastic drama schools delivering great training – I’ve worked in many of them during my 38-year career – but we felt it’s time that the model was reimagined. It’s time to look at new approaches. It’s time to offer something different, and that’s what we’re doing.”
“My hope is that we don’t just end up with excellent actors, but with people who can change our industry for the better,” says fellow co-artistic director and acclaimed theatre director Nancy Medina. “Our graduates will be those who dismantle the hierarchies that have created the structural exclusion that shapes Western teaching, and the industry at large. They will be the ones who redefine theatre through inclusivity, social justice, imagination and artistic activism.”
The BA Acting for Screen is a three-year training programme, devised jointly by Bristol School of Acting patron Charlie Cox and New York’s prestigious Pace University. The aim of the course is for graduates to enter the industry already fully comfortable with the practices and processes of film-making.
“Opportunities for screen work are increasing, but so too are the pressures to meet timescales and budgets,” says Cox, the star of Netflix’s Daredevil. “Producers and directors are looking for young actors who are already at home in front of the camera, and who can quickly adapt to the process of shooting, and the ever-changing technological developments. There is a real need for training that produces actors with those skills.”
The BA Acting for Screen is validated by Bath Spa University and delivered in partnership with the Bottle Yard Studios, a leading facility in Bristol that has played host to the TV series Poldark, Broadchurch and Wolf Hall. Students will receive 25 contact hours with industry professionals every week, and graduate having appeared in professionally directed films, and with a professionally produced showreel.
“By the time they leave, students will have spent three years working in a professional way, with professional technology, in real film studios, with top industry talent,” says Wood. “They will also have the chance to gain invaluable experience in motion capture and augmented reality, the areas that really are the new frontier of the performance industry.”
The BA Acting for Stage and Screen, meanwhile, is an intensive, accelerated degree taught over two years, with 43 weeks of teaching per year. Students will receive the same amount of contact hours as they would on a three-year course but save about £5,000 in tuition fees and a year’s living costs. The concept, according to Wood, is for students to “learn on the job”. They will become a resident company in training – the first of its kind in the country – at Bristol’s Tobacco Factory Theatres.
“We’re delighted to be embarking on this uniquely symbiotic relationship between a professional theatre and a drama school,” says Mike Tweddle, artistic director of Tobacco Factory Theatres. “The partnership will enrich and empower the training experience for students, who will collaborate with renowned artists in our spaces, as well as embolden our theatre’s mission to provide impactful, innovative and inclusive pathways into the industry.”
On the course students work in an ensemble – a training company – and are involved in six professionally directed productions over the course of two years, with acting classes running alongside.
“We also have an international partnership with the Boris Shchukin Theatre Institute in Moscow, which was the Moscow Art Theatre’s Third Studio,” adds Wood. “Students will, international circumstances permitting, be able to study a module in Russia, working with tutors there at one of the world’s most famous centres of actor training.”
When not making work at Bottle Yard Studios, Tobacco Factory Theatres, or even in Moscow, students on both courses will be based at the school’s facility in central Bristol – close to the city’s internationally renowned arts institutions, and at the heart of one of the country’s most vibrant and diverse student communities.
The courses themselves take a new approach to actor training, but they will be delivered by tutors with decades of experience. That credibility is matched by the organisation behind the school – boomsatsuma, one of the country’s most respected and innovative education providers.
Founded by Wood and Mark Curtis in 2011, boomsatsuma has developed a wide range of industry-linked diplomas and degrees, from BAs in film-making, photography and games art, to diplomas in sports media, dance and professional acting. Students at the Bristol School of Acting will be in safe hands.
Both courses can be fully funded through the usual Student Finance route and those interested in attending the school will be assessed via free auditions, part of a drive to ensure the course is open to the widest possible number of young people. The audition process will start with self-taped scenes, followed by an in-person recall for the BA Acting for Screen and an online or in-person audition for the BA Acting for Stage and Screen. Potential students should visit Bristol School of Acting’s website to register their interest.
“We want students who have talent, passion and commitment, of course, but we are also looking for those young people who are interested in being trained as creative artists, ready and able to reshape the industry they go into,” says Wood. “They’ll not be trained to be a blank canvas to create another person’s reality, but to be actors who bring themselves, their experience, their culture and their perspective to their work.”
“That’s how we will achieve genuine diversity and change,” he adds. “What they’ll join is not just a drama school, but a vibrant arts organisation in which everyone is constantly learning.”