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BLOG: Annemarie Lewis Thomas… Training, for Life!

Annemarie LewisAs ever I’d like to thank people for sharing and liking my last blog about why The MTA has chosen not to apply to be part UK Drama. I’d also like to thank UK Drama for answering all the queries that the blog raised…I’d like to…but I can’t, because as always they’ve stayed really quiet. Probably busy planning their next showcase event over in LA!!

There’s been a lot written recently by various agents in articles and blogs about how training doesn’t end when a course ends and I couldn’t agree more. For those of you that follow me on twitter you might have seen my cheeky #collegeforlife hashtag that regularly pops into our tweets (along with our now infamous #themtaway.) However it’s more than just a hashtag we really do operate ‘a college for life’ policy. So while our students pay for 2 years of intense training, they also get a lifetime of free dance classes, free audition help, free pastoral care, free use of our studios, and indeed free use of all our resources wherever possible.

Personally I think that’s why so many of our ambassadors (which is what we call our graduates) manage to stick at the profession for so long, well that and the fact that we always teach in terms of a 5 year plan. In other words none of our students are expecting to just leave college and go straight into the West End. I know that this happens, however I personally believe that you appreciate it a little bit more if you pay your dues to the industry first. Drama School is the beginning of your training not the end of it, so choose your first few jobs carefully to build up your stage craft…then in time I believe that you will reach the “Holy Grail” of London’s West End.

Drama school after all is the easy bit, you turn up and you get given a schedule that you follow for 1, 2 or 3 years (depending on your training choice). Every day is mapped out for you. Goals are set, shows are planned – simple!

It’s when you leave drama school that things get really tough – you leave so full of hope and expectation, ready to take the world by storm, yet you’re invariably faced with a crap job while scraping around for auditions. Even with 100% of our ambassadors leaving college with good agents, it’s still really hard at first to get seen for jobs. How do you keep yourself motivated? Of course we speak to our students a lot about how hard it’s going to be, and about how they need to keep going to classes, get into a routine, how the learning never stops etc, just like every other drama school I’m sure.

The big difference I guess is, that because we’re so small, and we know each and every one of them…I then check up on them to ensure that they are actually doing all of these things. Of course you can take a horse to water and all that…but at The MTA it takes quite a bit for us to let go of the reins until it drinks ;-)

Clearly I can’t make people go to class, but I can make it affordable for them – and with 9 free dance classes on offer most weeks of term there’s not much of an excuse to let your technique go! If they need music recorded for an audition they can just pop into college and get that done (or email it across)…all for free. Most importantly of all…if they’re beginning to lose their nerve or their way, they can just drop into college and talk to one of us, or make an appointment with the counsellor (no charge of course) and work out what’s going on.

It might be that as time moves on they begin to realise that performing isn’t for them, and again surely that’s the time that the college resources should kick in to help and support them if possible. Of course this is a bit trickier because at first the ambassadors think that they’re going to be perceived as failures/drop outs or whatever their own minds might be telling them! In reality there is a strong chance that as the years go by some will move across into other careers. So far we’ve got three moving across into other fields, but all theatre/performing arts related (agent, casting director and teacher), all of them are still keeping the door a little bit ajar to see what might happen, and you know they’re all going to be brilliant in their new chosen fields, and thankfully their training is still being put to good use – so it’s a win/win. I would like to think that we’re still a useful resource to them all (and judging by the fact that we still see them fairly regularly I guess we must be!)

There is a running joke that they would like to escape us…but I won’t let them (which probably is true!), but they invested £27,000 in a career that I know that they loved, and for that I (and my staff) owe it to each and every one of them to invest back in them as people…not just for 2 years. Of course this college for life malarkey can have its issues, as we’ve seen recently, and our support has to be appreciated or we will pull it (we’re not mugs after all!) BUT…the door is always open for them to make amends and come back in because it is after all….a college for life.

The pay off in all of this is an ever growing MTA family (a term that I resisted for the longest time but I can resist no longer). We have fairly regular reunions e.g. when an ambassador is in a show and we schlep along to support them, the infamous 1st day of the academic year buffet, or our main event named the Gradunion (named by 2012 Ambassador Kieran Kuypers)…because at The MTA Graduation every year, most of the ambassadors that are in London on that day come along for an annual reunion…hence the ‘Gradunion’. They all know this – it’s my absolute favourite day of the year, as the event just keeps growing (for obvious reasons) and it’s a real chance to reflect on what we’ve all achieved in our college for life!

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About The Reviews Hub - Features

The Reviews Hub - Features
Our Features team is under the editorship of Glen Pearce. The team is responsible for sourcing interviews, articles, competitions from across the country. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.