The Institute for Contemporary Theatre is a performing arts school with an exciting and innovative approach to training that prepares students for the industry today
Brighton and Manchester – two of Britain’s most creative cities, both bursting with history, character and culture. And, as of last September, both home to campuses of the Institute for Contemporary Theatre, the performing arts school that is making waves throughout the industry with its exciting and innovative approach to training.
“Some things that get taught in drama schools remain a constant,” says Thomasina Unsworth, principal of ICTheatre Brighton. “A supported voice, an expressive body, the freedom and courage to imagine and empathise are essential tools for the actor and we focus on them a great deal in our curriculum.”
“But then there are other skills that the modern performing arts industry requires that actors need to learn as well,” she continues. “Things such as aerial skills, puppetry, immersive theatre techniques, acting for video games and acting for motion capture. ICTheatre graduates will gain experience in all these areas. They will be prepared for the industry as it is today, not the industry as it was a decade ago.”
ICTheatre was founded in 2017 in Brighton, where it is about to move into a new, state-of-the-art facility situated a stone’s throw from the seafront. It opened its Manchester campus in September 2020, taking up residence in the Dancehouse, the elegant art-deco building that also houses the Northern Ballet School and a 500-seat theatre. Both campuses boast a range of suites, studios and student facilities.
“Both Brighton and Manchester are such great, lively cities to be a student in,” says Unsworth. “In Brighton, there is loads of theatre and music, including the Brighton Festival and the Brighton Fringe. And in Manchester there is the Manchester International Festival, the Greater Manchester Fringe and plenty of exciting events year-round.”
ICTheatre’s degree in Performing Arts – available in both cities, alongside an Extended Diploma in Performing Arts currently available at its Brighton home – offers three different pathways: Acting for the 21st Century, Contemporary Musical Theatre and Hip-Hop Artistry and Commercial Dance – the only degree-level qualification of its kind in the UK.
All courses are taught by a faculty of highly experienced tutors, whose CVs include stints at some of the most well-respected drama schools and theatres in the country. The staff-list includes a BAFTA-nominated choreographer, a movement practitioner from Moscow Art Theatre and the former head of voice at LAMDA.
The latest addition is writer, director and producer Robin Belfield, who has worked at both the Royal Shakespeare Company and London’s National Theatre and has taught at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, the Oxford School of Drama and Guildhall.
In addition to the experience of the permanent faculty, students will benefit from masterclasses given by a range of visiting professionals. Directors, writers, producers and performers from across the industry regularly visit to teach and provide support, ensuring ICTheatre students get up-to-the-minute insight on the ever-evolving industry.
All three programmes offer a combination of training classes, performance projects and academic study – and all three offer students the opportunity to select their modules, depending on their personal ambitions. The emphasis, according to Unsworth, is on developing students’ skills so that they are ready to embrace any opportunity the industry throws at them.
“Before we designed our courses, we consulted industry professionals,” says Unsworth. “We asked agents, casting directors, artistic directors and producers what skills they looked for in recent graduates. And then we designed our courses to equip our students with those skills.”
“We make sure that we teach our students the entrepreneurial side of the industry as well, because that is so important these days,” she adds. “How to market themselves, how to crowdfund for a project, how to manage their social media presence usefully and effectively – that sort of thing. Our graduates do not just sit around waiting for their agent to phone. They are out there making work for themselves and making names for themselves.”
The courses are taught by a faculty of experienced tutors, as well as a range of visiting practitioners, so students receive an up-to-date education about the industry as it evolves. Alongside its focus on finding work, ICTheatre ensures its students are completely supported – both during their three years training and throughout their subsequent careers.
“We have timetabled classes in mental resilience, mindfulness and meditation,” says Unsworth. “Rejection is an inevitable part of building a career in the performing arts and we make sure our students can cope with that – and with the anxiety that can accompany graduating and embarking on a career.”
“The environment at ICTheatre, in both Brighton and Manchester, is incredibly nurturing,” she adds. “It sounds like a cliché, but the students and staff really are one big family. I had a horrible time at drama school and I’ve worked in several subsequently. I’ve never come across an atmosphere as kind and attentive as there is here.”
That attentiveness extends to ICTheatre’s approach to addressing Covid-19. The school brought a digital learning coordinator on board last year, adapted its practice swiftly and safely, and now has different teaching models for different levels of restriction.
At present, during full lockdown, all classes have been moved online, but when rules are relaxed a “blended” approach of part-online, part-in-person teaching will be adopted. Come September, says Unsworth, ICTheatre hopes to be back to full-time in-person education in both Brighton and Manchester.
There is still space to explore beyond the curriculum at ICTheatre. On each of its three Performing Arts courses – Acting for the 21st Century, Contemporary Musical Theatre, and Hip-Hop Artistry and Commercial Dance – one afternoon a week is given over to classes on a variety of topics, from creative writing to stand-up comedy.
“They are usually on Fridays – Friday Fun Day we call it,” explains Unsworth. “We do opera, we do tango, we do everything under the sun. And it’s remarkable, because often students study something that is outside their area of interest and discover they love it and want to pursue it professionally. We had one student who turned out to be a really good stand-up comedian, and now that’s what she wants to do. It’s all about developing different skills and discovering who you are as an artist.”
Students interested in studying at ICTheatre are invited to contact the school with any enquiries. Applications for entry in September 2021 can be made via UCAS and will require a self-taped audition and a video-call interview.
“Of course, we are looking for talent, but we aren’t looking for the finished product at all,” says Unsworth. “More importantly we want to see curiosity and commitment. We want to see people who can think for themselves, because that is essential in the contemporary performing arts industry.”