NYT chief executive Paul Roseby claims that GCSE drama has ‘no relevance’

DIRECTORS-Paul-Roseby-no-credit-sent-by-NYT-630x310

Paul Roseby is the chief executive of the National Youth Theatre

Speaking at the Artsmark conference in late October, the chief executive of the National Youth Theatre was reported by The Stage as saying that drama at GCSE has ‘no relevance’ and that ‘we don’t need drama on the curriculum in such a formalised way.’

Roseby suggested that drama could be integrated into other subjects rather than continue to exist as what is perceived as a ‘very soft and easy’ stand-alone subject. He said: ‘You and I know it’s not, but the perception of it is, and that’s the battle.’

He said: ‘I would love to see schools become more like creative hubs and revolutionise the way we learn. They would create formulas and ideas that would stimulate subjects by actioning stories – Alan Turing, for instance, or Marie Curie, or re-enacting the cabinet war rooms. It’s taking the practical side of what theatre is and applying it to all subjects.

Roseby’s comments have attracted criticism from drama education figures such as Patrice Baldwin, chair of National Drama; Ian Kellgren, chief executive of Drama UK; and drama practitioner and professor Jonothan Neelands.

Neelands said Roseby’s comments were ‘not a helpful suggestion’, continuing, ‘It would be the end 
of drama in schools, frankly. If you don’t have it at GCSE, you’re pretty much saying that it doesn’t have any importance’.

Following the publication of Roseby’s comments in The Stage, the chief executive has taken to Twitter to clarify what he meant, saying: ‘In my speech I called for more drama in schools not less [and] enhanced role for drama teachers – question over GCSE format [and] it’s perception.’

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Arts Council chairman concerned with arts education gap

Art Council England's chairman Peter Bazalgette

Art Council England’s chairman Peter Bazalgette

This week has seen Arts Council England’s chairman Sir Peter Bazalgette address the gap in arts education between students educated in private schools and state schools.

Bazalgette, speaking to The Stage, raised his concerns about the marginalisation of the arts for state school students: ‘I can’t see why 7% to 9% of the population who go to private school should have a fantastic and privileged education in the performing arts, and why it’s being marginalised in state schools. When you see BAFTA [awards] coming around and three of the actors nominated are from Eton you think, great for them, they are wonderful actors, but something odd is going on here. Why is that happening?’

Eton College has produced actors such as Damian Lewis, Dominic West, Tom Hiddleston, Eddie Redmayne and Harry Lloyd. Other privately educated actors include Benedict Cumberbatch, Hugh Bonneville, and Rory Kinnear.

Bazalgette suggested that one of the possible routes to remedy the issue would be through Ofsted: ‘When it is inspecting schools, [Ofsted] should not be allowed to give any school an “excellent” rating unless it has a very good offering in performing and visual arts for its pupils.’

Speaking at Sheffield’s international documentary festival Doc/Fest, Bazalgette added to his comments: ‘Seven per cent of the population go to private schools, and in those private schools they get an absolutely, crackingly good education in the performing and visual arts. Ninety-three per cent don’t go to those private schools and, in some state schools, people get a wonderful education in visual and performing arts as well. But in quite a lot of them they don’t.

‘Visual performing arts have been marginalised in some areas in the curriculum as the curriculum becomes more instrumentalist and focused on what’s known as the Stem agenda – science, technology, engineering and maths. If there is one message, we say Steam, not Stem – put the “a” for arts in.’

ATG owners top The Stage 100 List

Chief executives Howard Panter and Rosemary Squire of the Ambassador Theatre Group have come top, for the fifth year running, of The Stage 100 List – the industry paper’s annual power list. The theatre group, established over 20 years ago, owns 39 theatres in the UK.

Last year saw ATG undergo a period of change and growth: the company purchased New York theatre, Foxwoods, home to the soon-to-close production Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark. This marks the first UK theatre group to own a Broadway venue. Later in the year ATG was bought out by a US private equity firm for £350m. Deputy editor of The Stage Alistair Smith described the deal as a ‘game-changer’ and ‘the biggest theatre transaction that has ever taken place in the UK market.’

The National Theatre team of Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr, who came joint top with ATG’s Panter and Squire in the 2013 list, have come in second in this year’s fixtures. Andrew Lloyd Webber, having previously topped the list six times, is in third place. Cameron Mackintosh and Nick Allott come in at four and Sonia Friedman at five.

New entries in the top ten include Gregory Doran and Catherine Mallyon for the Royal Shakespeare Company, Sam Mendes and Caro Newling for Neal Street Productions, and theatre director Jamie Lloyd.

For the full The Stage 100 List, visit www.thestage.co.uk.

Campaign launched in support of regional theatres

MTM_logo_redA campaign entitled My Theatre Matters! has been launched to encourage support of local theatres. The initiative is being led by Equity, The Stage and Theatrical Management Association (TMA).

The Stage editor Brian Attwood says: ‘Many theatres are facing reductions, and in some cases complete cuts, in support from their local authorities. It is the single biggest threat currently facing our industry.

‘While there are many enlightened councils out there who continue to support their local theatres, we fear there will also be many who see them as an easy target at a time of cuts. We need to show that theatres aren’t an easy target, but are public services that are really valued by their audiences.’

The campaign responds to continuing funding cuts by local authorities which are having a damaging effect on regional theatres around the country. In January 2013, theatres and museums in Sheffield were hit by cuts of 20% from the city council; Newcastle City Council announced that it would stop funding theatres and arts venues in March, instead instigating a fund worth only 50% of previous financial support; and in the same month, Westminster council confirmed that it would cut all funding to the arts by 2014/5.

The My Theatre Matters! campaign can be followed via Twitter (@theatre_matters), Facebook (www.facebook.com/mytheatrematters) and their website (www.mytheatrematters.com).

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Theatre Awards UK 2012 nominations revealed

The nominations for Theatre Awards UK 2012, hosted by the Theatrical Management Association, have been announced.

Sweeney Todd has earned three nominations at this year’s awards, including two nominations in the Best Performance in a Musical category, nods having been given to both Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton, and Best Musical Production. The revival has recently finished a run on the West End, having transferred from the Chichester Festival in 2011.

The prize for Best Show for Children and Young People will fought out between Newcastle-under-Lyme’s New Vic Theatre production of  Alice in Wonderland; Shona Reppe’s The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean, performed at Scotland’s new writing Traverse Theatre this August; and Something Very Far Away from Unicorn Theatre.

This year Theatre Awards UK are set to present their first public-voted prize, in association with The Stage, for Best Touring Production. Nominees include Curve Theatre’s The King and I and Swallows and Amazons from The Children’s Touring Partnership. Voting is open on The Stage‘s website until midnight on the 22 October.

The awards ceremony, which focuses on rewarding theatre work which takes place throughout the entirety of the UK, will take place on 28 October at London’s Guildhall.

The full list of nominations is available to view on the TMA website.

Unicorn Theatre suspends internships

Unicorn Theatre, who specialise in performance and education programmes for children, has suspended its internship programme after consulting with Arts Council England (ACE). The position of communications intern had previously been listed on their website as a ‘voluntary placement’. The advert said the role would last between three to six months, with volunteers being asked to work up to five days a week, and expenses of up to £200 a month offered.

ACE advises that if interns are of ‘worker status’: taking part in substantial tasks and activities, they should be paid the minimum wage. After discussions between Unicorn and ACE, the theatre decided to suspend all internships.

A spokesman for Unicorn Theatre told The Stage: ‘Following further discussions, the theatre is now suspending this scheme in advance of the Arts Council’s new grant programme, to create paid opportunities for young people looking to start a career in the cultural sector.’

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Actress Joanna Page hits out at Lloyd Webber reality show

‘Insulting’: Actress Joanna Page attacks Lloyd Webber’s reality show

Stage and screen actress Joanna Page has called the latest reality television show to find the next stage star ‘disgusting’. The RADA graduate criticised the ITV series Superstar and shows with a similar format.

The programme saw Andrew Lloyd Webber search for a new male lead to perform the role of Jesus in the forthcoming arena tour of Jesus Christ Superstar. The finale, broadcast last night, saw 31-year-old Ben Forster win the reality TV show. He will join Chris Moyles, Tim Minchin and former Spice Girl Mel C in performances around the UK.

Page, speaking to The Stage, voiced her concerns that reality television programmes overlooked performers already working in the industry: ‘There are actors and musical theatre performers who have given their whole lives to the profession because it is their passion, and then you have some bloody van driver on a show saying “I didn’t do this when I was 12 but I wish I had done, but I didn’t have the guts”. Well, that’s your problem, because you obviously didn’t have the passion, spirit, drive, and the determination, to dedicate your whole life to it.’

The Gavin and Stacey actress also questioned Andrew Lloyd Webber’s choice not to cast actors he has previously worked with, labelling it as ‘insulting’ to those who had performed in his previous shows.

She also went on to query how useful the arrangement of the series really was in showing the true potential amongst the contestants, as the show had no real platform to display their acting ability. Page said: ‘I am finding myself really happy now that they are left with people who aren’t suitable. There is no one with the charisma, the authority, the stature or the maturity to play Jesus.’

This isn’t the first time Superstar has come under attack. When plans for the show were first announced Lloyd Webber’s long time collaborator Sir Tim Rice voiced his discontent that Jesus Christ Superstar would be getting the ‘tasteless reality television treatment’.

Rice said at the time: ‘Andrew wants to rehash things all the time, but I really don’t think Superstar needs that. Those shows are relentlessly downmarket, which is fine if the show is a lightweight bit of fluff.

‘It’s just possible that it might be the most sophisticated, tasteful show hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, but I doubt it. It sounds tacky and I really don’t think Andrew should do it.’

International Student Drama Festival 2012

University of Warwick students perform The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui at the NSDF 2011 (c) NSDF

This week has seen the first International Student Drama Festival (ISDF) take place in Sheffield. The National Student Drama Festival (NSDF) took the decision to make this year’s event global, so to celebrate the Cultural Olympiad (see Teaching Drama Summer 1 for our article on the NSDF ‘Going Global‘).

The 9-day festival began on 22 June with an address from Tim Etchells, Forced Entertainment’s artistic director. The company, based in Sheffield, was established in 1984 by Exeter university graduates – something which would inspire many of the student attendees.

Etchells spoke of his concern for the government’s current attitude toward the funding of artists and theatre: ‘We are – in case you hadn’t noticed – living in a space of economic downturn […] a space which offers us the dismantling and out sourcing of state functions (health, education, arts) and in general cuts and with cuts a steady insistence on the importance of private sponsorship a situation in which, little by little sponsors help to define the shape of public institutions.’

Etchells also said how ISDF was an ‘amazing opportunity to show and to meet and to invent’. He offered advice to students, recommending that they should, ‘steal things, from everyone and anyone. Take one thing from everything you love and then hide, mix and rework it all in what you do. Take one thing and make it yours.’

As well as Etchells, there have been a number of visiting artists in attendance at the international festival. Hull Truck Theatre Company’s John Godber is acting as a judge for this year’s panel. Other big names from the theatre industry in the UK have included the RSC, LAMDA, Mountview, Old Vic Tunnels, Masterclass, Out of Joint, Forced Entertainment and many other organisations and individuals who have been running 270 workshops that have been put on for visitors.

There has also been a selection of visiting global artists such as Vietnam Youth Theatre, Australian company Circa, Ashtar Theatre from Palestine and theatre companies from Russia, Iran and Iceland.

The ISDF has seen 20 performances from students from around the UK, as well as many international performances from theatre companies originating from the US, Israel, Japan, Australia and Zimbabwe.

Shota Rustaveli Theatre Company, from Georgia, USA, were described as, ‘a highlight of this year’s ISDF programme’ by The Stage, with their performance of Our Town. Another highly commended performance came from With Wings Theatre Company, a group of former students from Giggleswick, Yorkshire. Their production of If Room Enough, an adaptation of The Tempest, has been referred to as the ‘hottest ticket in town’. There are plans to take the production to The Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2013.

Director of theatre at the University of Sheffield (one of the festival’s partners) Professor Steve Nicholson said: ‘This is a fantastic opportunity for students to broaden their theatre experience and maybe even challenge some expectations. It’s almost like having the best of the Edinburgh Fringe on our doorstep and shows once again that Sheffield is one of the most exciting cities in the UK if you want to see and study live performance.’

The ISDF will finish on 30 June.

www.nsdf.org.uk

The Stage reveals high theatre prices

An investigation by The Stage has revealed the high cost of visiting popular shows in the West End. The theatre industry newspaper uncovered some of the rather hefty charges incurred when attending theatre in the capital.

Buying tickets online is costing theatre-goers up to £12.25, just in booking fees. But the charges are not consistent across the board, The Stage found that for shows such as Chicago and War Horse there was no fee, however, shows toward the top end of the booking charge scale, at £12+ included; We Will Rock You, Wicked and Top Hat.  

The charges were found to vary between the tiers of tickets for sale. When purchasing a top-price ticket, customers are charged a fee of £8.25, however, for cheaper seats, costing just £34, the booking charge drops to £5.50.

On top of this initial fee, there is a further £4 charge, which goes towards the delivery costs of posting or emailing tickets to customers.  However, this charge is only applicable to UK residents, for which collection at the theatre is not permitted.

A spokesman for Which? told The Stage: ‘About 50,000 people supported our campaign to see these ‘rip-off’ charges stamped out so the government must stick to its commitment and ensure the ban happens by December.’

The Stage has also uncovered the most expensive tickets on sale in the West End. On average a top price ticket costs £72.12 and the average cost for the least expensive seats is £21.91 – inclusive of booking charges.

Their investigation found that Billy Elliot was the most expensive musical, charging £97.50 for a top-tier ticket. The Ladykillers was named as the most expensive play to attend, charging customers £97 for buying a top price ticket.

But for a country still cost-cutting after the recession, it was not all bad news – both War Horse and Les Miserables came out top for offering the cheapest seats for theatre-goers. Les Miserables has tickets starting from £12 and War Horse came out even cheaper, with prices from just £10.

Do high prices deter you from visiting the theatre? Do you think is justified for theatres to charge this much for tickets and booking fees? Do you think the high cost discourages young people from attending? Let us know what you think.

www.thestage.co.uk/news/newsstory.php/35824/exclusive-west-end-audiences-face-booking
www.thestage.co.uk/news/newsstory.php/35823/exclusive-top-priced-london-theatre-seats 

Michael Gove to overhaul A levels

Education secretary Michael Gove has outlined his plans to overhaul A level qualifications. The government is set to place universities in charge of approving exam content, and will remove the Department for Education from taking any kind of role.

In a letter to exam regulator Ofqual, Gove raised his concerns about the current standard of the A levels, claiming that, ‘leading university academics tell me that A levels do not prepare students well enough for the demands of an undergraduate degree.’ Changes made to the current system would see exams taken in England, Wales and Northern Ireland affected.

The news comes as a study found that a number of university lecturers believed that students were unprepared for university teaching. Of those lecturers polled, three-fifths said they had run ‘catch-up’ classes to assist students. Over half of the 633 who took part said many students do not have the writing, or critical thinking skills required to study at undergraduate level.

If plans are to go ahead, the control over A level content would be removed from exam boards and handed over to universities. Gove wrote: ‘I am particularly keen that universities should be able to determine subject content, and that they should endorse specifications, including details of how the subject should be assessed. I will expect the bar to be a high one: university ownership of the exams must be real and committed, not a tick-box exercise.’

The new system would still see exam boards set the outline for courses, but it would be encouraged that students were only entered for exams if they had been approved by a Russell Group university.

Responses to the new scheme have been mixed. NUT general sectary Christine Blower said that there would be, ‘no harm done’ from the new measures, however, it would be more complicated than it appeared in implement the scheme: ‘You can’t decide to have a hands-off approach in one bit of the education system but attempt to dominate the whole of the rest of it. A-levels have to be seen as part of the education system.’

Teaching Drama contributor, and The Stage’s education editor, Susan Elkin said on Twitter: ‘So Gove wants universities to set GCSEs and A Levels. [The] ones I took were all set by University of London. Education has always been cyclical.’Tis said that if you teach for 40 years and stick unchangingly to your methods etc., you will be in fashion three times.’

The government plans for the new A level qualifications to be taught from 2014, starting with English, maths and science. The system would then be implemented across the whole board of subjects.