Annemarie Lewis Thomas joins TPR as a regular fortnightly guest blogger – having worked extensively as a professional composer and musical director she set up The Musical Theatre Academy (MTA) in Islington to bring balance back into training for the arts and to give students real value for money. In this introductory blog Annemarie shares her vision, philosophy and guides us in the #MTAWAY: However don’t be alarmed in the coming weeks if things start to get a little challenging and debate starts to ensue… we have chosen Annemarie for a reason!
So this week Susan Elkin of The Stage asked the question ‘are we training too many students?’
Now if anyone is in a good position to ask this question I should say that she is…seeing as she’s the Education and Training Editor for The Stage newspaper so she has to sit through a fair share of showcases and visits a huge amount of schools and colleges. As you would expect her blog created the usual stir but the simple answer is ‘yes’.
Now maybe I should introduce myself..my name is Annemarie Lewis Thomas and my day job is a MD/composer/lyricist and my ‘crap job’ (as that is the description that most performers give to the job that we have that pays the bills, the functional job that enables us to be creative the rest of the time) is that I run a drama school. Even worse than that…I founded it!
In 2009 I opened The MTA…that’s right I am one of the people responsible for training too many people. Ironically though I opened the college because I agreed with the original question. As a working MD 6 years ago I felt that the standard of graduate that I was working with had nosedived, not so much their ability (although in some cases that was also true)…but just their general attitudes. People couldn’t be bothered to turn up to warm ups, when I gave a note I ended up in long, laborious discussions and I began to yearn for the old days when I simply gave a note and it was taken. The list goes on and I’ll save you the detail… and yes of course I’m not talking about every graduate that I was working with at that time, but in all honesty I am talking about a large percentage.
Then day after day I’d find myself speaking… ok moaning with other performers/agents/creative of a similar age to me all having the same experiences. In other words it wasn’t just me, it was endemic in the industry… and getting worse. For a while I thought about giving it up and just settling into my ‘crap job’ as I’m one of the lucky ones insomuch as I love my ‘crap job’. I think that training young professionals to follow their dreams is just an absolute gift… yet this area of my life had begun to have a niggle too. I found myself teaching students that I knew stood no chance at all of ever working, they just weren’t talented enough, the colleges were taking their money… but also taking their dreams and not being honest with them insomuch as what they were getting back was going to be life-skills, as there was no way that they’d be on a professional stage.
Staff weren’t getting paid properly, students were being hassled for their fees while the Principals were driving around in Jaguars, Bentleys and Mercedes. In other words these colleges weren’t about training professionals they were about making money… So I started speaking out. When I attempted to be the ‘voice of the student’ I was either offered hush money or fired. So I found myself with no crap job as I’d made myself unemployable, and unhappy in my real job because something was going wrong with the graduates. So you see I had no choice… I had to open a drama college a) to provide myself with a crap job and b) to ensure that my graduates returned to old school values so that I would want to work with them out in the industry.
I wanted to prove to myself really that a college could be run on good ethics. I’ve been a musician all my working life so I’ve never had money and see riches in much more important things than financial gain. So The MTA is a streamlined college taking a max of 22 students/year every single one of whom has the talent to earn a career as an industry professional. This year sees us celebrating our 5th birthday…every graduate has left having gained agent representation and everyone of them has worked. The feedback about them all is always exceptional not about their talent (although that is there too)…but about the fact that they’re nice and easy to work with..and that they can take a note!
So…are we training too many ….yes BUT we are training too many the wrong way with ethics not even being a consideration…but then I guess you can’t put down a deposit on your next vehicle with good ethics can you? FYI I ride a £1500 Yamaha Scooter…ethics can buy you one of those if you save up long enough ;-)