Wednesday, 17 December 2008

End of Year Review

There's a couple of days still to go, but I figured it might be good to try and look back over 2008 for the department - it's been a year!

The major development has been the successful launch of the three pathways: Applied Theatre, Theatre Arts and Physical Theatre and despite some teething problems - it's clear that the new structure is proving popular, helping students' focus, from their earliest weeks at University, on the training that they'll need in order to really have a chance of making an impact in the theatre industry. There have been some teething problems and a certain disjointedness, particularly in marrying the lecture/seminar courses to the pathways, but overall it feels like progress.

By introducing warm ups four days a week and giving over two full days to practical work we think we're offering a much more realistic programme to the students. Attendance and punctuality have also improved as self -discipline improves and the culture slowly shifts.

The knock effect has benefited second and third year students, as the three appointments we made in 2008 (Annabel, Ian & Matt) have increased our capacity to create a professional standard of performance practice. There still some gaps. The students don't have sufficient vocal training and this is sometimes apparent in their shows, but the standard is rising.

The appointment of Kieran, Matt C, Tilly & Dave as Graduate assistants has also helped support the practical work and, as recent graduates themselves, they've been able to offer very understanding support to the new crews, particularly during the induction weeks.

It's been a good year for graduate Directors - Andy Brunskill took up an assistant post at The Orange Tree and Stef O'Driscoll's brilliant Yard Gal, which won critics choice in Time Out, is still out there, with a transfer to the Hackney Empire planned for February.

The graduate performers didn't do so badly either Joe Castagna walked straight into a supporting role opposite Joan Rivers in the West End and Rachel Barrett, has just been picked up by a casting agent working for the BBC. Jade Parker, continues to tour internationally with Cancer Tales, whilst finishing her Performance MA at Arts Ed. Sarah Hall also won a converted place at this Drama School.

Elsewhere Ange Anson, head hunted by the Royal Opera House to join their LX crew, decided to postpone employment in favour of an MA at Central. Whilst Stevie Boreham joined Andy at The Orange Tree working as a wardrobe mistress. Beyond the theatre work eight graduates have gone off to complete PGCE courses. The future's bright in their hands.

There's been a lot of work in our own spaces too, with memorable productions in the Spring of Woyzek, A Midsummer Night's Dream and Kasia's Too Loud a Solitude. These were followed this Autumn by Tina's beautiful Day and Night Happen installation for the SMarts festival, Destination GB, created by our in-house Los Banditos company, and the Shakespeare festival, currently running. The building itself has been transformed with a new foyer, retractable seating block and signage. Yesterday work began backstage on showers and an additional dressing room. We're getting there.

Lots of top visitors to the Uni. Old friends, Clean Break, Cardboard Citizens, NIE and The Comedy School - but lots of great actors, directors, designers and critics including: Lucy Pitman Wallace, Ian Redford, Michael Billington, Sean Foley, Marcello Magni, Lyn Darnley, Mervyn Miller, John Retallack, Jon Holloway and Sam Walters have all delivered masterclasses.

Our profile has been rising internationally Kasia and I both spent time in Viterbo University, Wisconsin and an agreement has been signed to enable student exchanges between our institutions from September 2009. Meanwhile Matt is continuing to work on our partnership with Theatre for a Change and the University of Mzuzu, who will host our students in Malawi from 2011.

Matt's other African adventure took him to South Africa to interview the comrades imprisoned with Nelson Mandela on Robben Island about their favourite passages from the Complete works of Shakespeare, smuggled into the prison. It'll be fascinating to see how this work develops in 2009.

Locally we've also been very active, with a further five TIE shows touring Richmond Schools and a developing partnership with the National Trust, that has led to the Helios project in Spring and the ongoing child friendly version of The Tempest at Ham House. Over 1,000 kids have worked with our students in follow up workshops. Meanwhile the MA Directors ran their showcase at BAC in June.

Next year's already shaping up, with the MA Physical Theatre being launched in September, and the possibility of developing a technical theatre pathway to support the rest of the work. TIE projects are being planned with Hounslow schools, culminating in a Chiswick Park gig in May. The RSC, visiting our friends at Richmond Theatre with The Tempest, will run a teachers INSET with us in March. The third year creative collaborators and directors festivals in February, Kasia's third year advanced acting production in Spring and the MA Directors return to BAC in June. We're also entering new partnerships with DeSales University in Pennsylvania and further research trips to Malawi for both Matt and myself ...

After a little nap ... Bring it on !!!

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