Reproduced from The Lace Market Theatre' magazine - The Boards.
Writer Phil Lowe recently spoke to former Lace Market Theatre member, Janine Forster, about her acceptance and experiences on the Scenic Construction MA Course at RADA over the last two years.
She had the opportunity to study in the Academy's carpentry and steel fabrication workshops, working with professional directors and designers on the Academy's public productions and had the chance to visit various professional organisations such as the National Theatre and Royal Opera House.
The course gives students the opportunity to gain practical and theoretical knowledge of construction materials and their properties, carpentry and joinery, building, erecting and maintaining sets and the mechanics of scenery handling and rigging including theatrical flying. On the practical side great emphasis was placed on the safe usage of various tools such as routers, jigsaws, band, table, wall saws, lathes, grinders and sanders. The students are also taught to produce working drawings and ground plans using CAD (Computer Aided Design), budgeting and ordering of materials, technical stage management skills and the principles of masking and sightlines.
One of the best aspects of the course is a four to six weeks professional attachment to a theatre or scenic contractor and this course leads to the award of a postgraduate diploma in Scenic Construction. For the best impression of Janine's creativity and colour photographs of her work please go to Janine's website.
Phil: Are you still a member of the Lace Market Theatre?
Janine: No, as I spend most of my time down in London now. However, I would like to thank the Lace Market Theatre for the support they gave me throughout my course and not only the generous donation from the Lace Market Theatre charitable trust that helped me, but also to the members that have wished me well and kept in touch!
Phil: I understand that the scenic construction course at RADA only accept a few people per two year course. What was it about your attitude, experience and qualifications that led them to accept you?
Janine: Yes they take up to three students a year on the course. There were three of us in total in my year and we all came from very different backgrounds and not all from the theatre. Although it is a postgraduate course you do not need an undergraduate degree to apply or get on to it - just relevant experience. I think that they look for enthusiasm for the subject, dedication to build on existing skills as well as wanting to learn new ones!
Phil: London is an expensive city to exist in, would you have any personal advice for any applicant about funding oneself through a drama school course?
Janine: I would start early! You will find that you send a lot of letters and not get many responses. Funding, especially for the arts, is difficult to come by but there are a few good websites and there is a charity almanac that lists all the charities in the UK and their criteria. It is long slog and very time consuming, but worth it. I would also keep note of who you have written to and if they have responded. I have written a entry about funding advice you can find it at my blog: http://jforster-creativetypes.blogspot.co.uk/
Phil: Did you manage to get any help with finding contacts within the industry?
Janine: As part of the course you have to undertake a six week placement within the industry which the tutors and staff at RADA have established contacts with.
Phil: Was the course itself a challenge for you in terms of expanding your creative nature?
Janine: I absolutely loved the course and I would say it is the best thing that I have done. The mixture of working on productions every six weeks with personal projects gave me a great balance. The roles undertaken for the productions prepare you for working within the profession and with professional designers (RADA productions are designed by external professional designers as well as the students on the design course). The personal projects were there to improve key skills needed for scenic construction but also to give you the opportunity to get really creative and to design as well as make.
Phil: How intensive was the course?
Janine: The course was very intensive especially during build week and the run up to a show when you could be working up to twelve hours a day, six days a week . Definitely not nine to five but then again set construction is not a nine to five type of career. Also, RADA is what you take from it. During the weeks between the shows (when you could leave at five) I tended to stay late anyway to work on personal projects and learn new skills. The great thing about RADA is that it is so friendly and that there is always someone about, so if you wanted to know a little bit more about lighting or how to make a certain prop there was always someone (whether a tutor or other specialist) about to show you.
Phil: To what degree was the course practical and theoretical ?
Janine: I would say that it was 99% practical. There are some lectures, developmental talks, and health and safety training that take place at the beginning of the year. The undergraduate course also has a few more lectures about theatre history and the different types of roles in the theatre which the specialists are welcome to attend. You are continually assessed instead of having exams at the end of the year
Phil: Given your experience at the Lace Market Theatre in designing and building sets, what would you say were the major differences between the amateur world and the professional world?
Janine: I would say from a construction point of view that it is a little more removed from the actual theatre space, even if you are lucky enough to work for a producing house you will be in a workshop space away from the theatre spaces. If you work for a scenery building company you can find yourself not being involved in the fit up or visiting the venue at all!
Phil: Did you do any artistic work outside of the RADA spaces to gain experience?
Janine: I personally did not, other than my placement.
Phil: Does RADA have a support system for its graduates in finding work or contacts?
Janine: This is going to sound really cheesy but RADA is like a family! You spend up to two years (on some courses) of your life with the same group of people and because RADA is a very small community everybody knows everyone else. So once you have graduated you can pop back and say "hello" to use the facilities or ask a former tutor for advice and I would say that it is an excellent support system! As far as contacts and finding work goes there is nothing formal in place (i.e. job boards or newsletters) but more of a 'word of mouth' network - 'I heard that so and so was looking for a carpenter... you should get in touch’ type of thing.
Phil: Overall how did you find the course and did it meet up to your expectations?
Janine: It utterly surpassed them! I would very much recommend the courses at RADA.
For an overall view of the courses run through RADA visit http://www.rada.ac.uk/courses-at-rada