Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Budding talents at Midlands Academy of Dance and Drama.

Given my avid interest in musical theatre I was especially delighted to be invited to speak to Midlands Academy of Dance and Drama principal Frances Clayton at their Nottingham base last week. The college stands proudly at the top of a hill in Carlton Nottingham and as I approached its front entrance I was met by a group of very happy looking students on their way to a dance class in the college's second purpose built building. My first impression was of energy and enthusiasm and students keen to develop their craft through expert tuition often from West End professionals.

Frances spoke to me extensively about the college's decision to include a level 6 Diploma in Musical Theatre (3 year course) additional to the 1 Year Foundation Musical Theatre Course, the pre-vocational training for 3 to 16 year old's and the very popular Summer course in July. The level 6 Professional 3 year Musical Theatre diploma validated by Trinity London provides an APEL (Approved Prior Experience and Learning) route into the BA (Hons) Professional Practice (BAPP) designed by Middlesex University for awarded students. This gives participants the opportunity, following graduation at MADD, to study for a BA(Hons) while continuing with their professional performing career. Additionally the Professional Performing Arts Diplomas provide an APEL route into some MA programmes.

Frances Clayton said that there a very good employment success rate for their graduates and that the high standards they enforce match that of the London based colleges. They are also accredited with the Council for Dance Education and Training and their academic standards are set and monitored through Trinity College London. David Essex OBE, Arlene Phillips OBE and David Wood OBE are the three patrons of the college.

As well as generously offering a talented boy student a full scholarship worth £26,400 (3 year training at MADD on the Professional Musical Theatre Diploma Course David Essex takes time out to visit the college whenever he is in Nottingham. He also goes to see the graduates perform at the Criterion Theatre in London. Frances described him as having extensive personal knowledge as a seasoned performer and writer who is keen to develop new talents, sometimes offering chances of employment in his own shows, all achieved with a quiet elegance. When David Essex was on tour with his show 'All The Fun Of The Fair' he attended the MADD college with his two leads and offered valuable insights into the business to the students including sharing the knowledge that each one of the students should recognised that their biggest asset was their uniqueness. Additionally, the Stage newspaper offer an opportunity to audition for a full scholarship for one boy and one girl.

Arlene Phillips OBE and world renowned choreographer offers her continual support as patron even though she is constantly in work and often on the other side of the world. Arlene is a very busy and sort after individual and in great demand for her skills. She is also patron of the IDTA. Through her recommendations several of the MADD students have got work in shows like Starlight Express (UK and Germany) and Grease.

Writer David Wood OBE writes and produces pre-dominantly theatre for children and he is the only writer allowed to adapt the works of Roald Dahl for the stage. Amongst many other titles David Wood's adaptations include The Fantastic Mr Fox and James and The Giant Peach. Frances Clayton's own daughter Emma has worked continually with David Wood in the theatre. He often attends the college and showcases and is constantly on the look out for new talent. He has a big input in the casting of his shows. In 2014 he came over to Nottingham to do workshops with the third year students. In 2013 he came to workshop a play and one of the female students impressed him so much with her all round talents and particular gift of comedy that he suggested she audition for his theatre adaptation, The Tiger That Came To Tea. She was given work and has toured all around the world with the show.

After our chat in the MADD office Frances gave me a leisurely tour of the college and I had the great pleasure of sitting in on some of the classes including a singing class with about twenty mixed students held by actor/singer and West End performer Shona Lindsay. Shona has performed as Christine in the London production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of The Opera alongside Glyn Kerslake as Phantom for 18 months. Glynn is also engaged as a tutor periodically at the college. The students cannot but benefit from Shona's fantastic musical theatre pedigree. Whilst I was there a young girl student was selected to sing her choice of song in front of the note taking and observing class. The young woman sang 'Look What Happened to Mabel from Mack and Mabel.' Shona coached her on her breathing and on her delivery and the importance of the knowledge of the back story and character. The whole class began with a powerful vocal warm up and were 120% attentive to the tutor and pianist. I sense that there is a profound amount of dedication in this college, not just from the devoted and skilled staff but from the young people themselves and none of it came across as false hopes at stardom more as true development of innate talents ready for realistic work in the theatre or other entertainment mediums.

I also briefly sat in on two drama classes – one based on the musical Chicago – complete with dancers in the wings as a young man sang Mr Cellophane and the other deep in discussion about the characters in Animal Farm. As the students here are trained in dance, singing and drama I my time was also spent in a class teaching ballet. This was mostly young women but there were a few young men in the class too. Before I reluctantly left (could have happily stayed all day) I attended a one to one singing session with a student who was fresh from the ballet class and sang beautifully.

All in all, a wonderful short insight into the daily routines and enthusiastic practices of all at MADD college in Nottingham. Thank you to all the friendly and welcoming staff and students and especially to Principal Frances Clayton for sparing her valuable time to show me around and talk about her exemplary school. I got the distinct impression that MADD is a college that genuinely cares for its students and their futures. I very much look forward to the showcase at Nottingham Playhouse on
19th and 20th June 2015.

Images with kind permission of MADD.

No comments: