I was invited to visit the Drama and Theatre Studies department at Bilborough Sixth FormCollege in Nottinghamshire yesterday. The department works with young students who have a strong level of performance or design and can demonstrate a creative approach to productions including the skill of evaluating a performance. The classes work along the new Edexcel specification which means that the classes have no more than twenty-one students – sometimes fewer. Their performances are in a purpose built studio equipped with full lighting and sound.
The academic level at which they study is AS and A Level Drama and Theatre Studies. From my visit I recognised that there was a strong level of dance and movement too. Overall the course takes on about two hundred and twenty students. Even for those that choose not to go on to study drama professionally or at university the life skills learnt on this course are invaluable in terms of building confidence and the ability to speak clearly in public and work very well in a team environment. Many employers value such skills very highly.
Drama Principle Sharon MacIness gave me a tour of the department and was keen to tell me that many of the students retain links with the course after graduation and some even return later in life to teach. While I was there I spoke a young man with a dancer's build in their office who had studied dance at Rambert. He was keen to express his love of the course when he was a student there and how he is back helping to support the course in its contemporary guise.
Actor Arsher Ali was a former student there and went on to study at East 15 drama school and has been seen on television and in film as well in his stage work. Another former student Andy Coxon went on to study at Mountview and has appeared in the West End production of Les Misérables and the recent film of Les Mis. Ed Boott took further study at Rose Bruford and went on to found Nonsuch Theatre Company. Bilbourgh College Drama and Theatre studies course are justifiably proud of their 100% pass rate at AS and A2 level.
The students I got the pleasure of meeting and observing were rehearsing their devised pieces inspired by The Medieval Book of Miracles and the controlling theory of God punishing mankind for his wrong doings plus other religious, social and political insights from the medieval world. The book features newly uncovered illuminations form the renaissance depicting miraculous phenomena.
The students were rehearsing in all parts of the building – in corridors – in spaces behind the lighting and sound box – in the drama studio itself. I was impressed with some of the interpretations created by the students themselves and found the inner director in me responding to their 'in rehearsal' presentations. I kept quiet and concentrated on observing and taking photos of three of the rehearsals. I came away very impressed and keen to involve myself with the students sometime by discussing the role of a theatre reviewer. I hope that the evening presentations/showcases went well for the students and that they get to learn about themselves as creators and performers not only through tutor based criticism but also through seeing themselves on DVD and learning from that form of teaching. Often the best way of learning is through your mistakes.
It was a surprise and a pleasure to bump into Chris Chambers who I acted with in Richard 3rd in 2008. Chris is a fine actor and he has decided to pass on his skills by training to be a drama teacher. I have no doubt that the students will benefit greatly from his energy and expertise. Thank you to Sharon MacIness, the dedicated staff on the Drama and Theatre Studies course and also to the welcoming and talented students for my visit. Phil Lowe
Photos by Phil Lowe