How many times have we seen on stage or on screen the struggling actor character, going to audition after audition, trying to catch their lucky break? But how much does a successful acting career come down to luck, and how much comes down to putting in place a good, strong foundation of skills, knowledge and investing time in networking? Drama and theatre education is not just a place to do the first two, and in fact, is key in jumping the first hurdle of the ‘foot in the door’. Having taught theatre students for many years I am only too aware of the importance of excellent drama education projects in creating meaningful connections that students can use to develop their future careers.
This web connecting industry and opportunities to students through teaching will be on display this week, as London South Bank University (LSBU) students take to the stage for the UK premiere of Mind the Gap! - a ground-breaking performance project devised by the amazing New York Theatre Workshop (NYTW). NYTW work with artists and communities in Manhattan’s East Village to create unforgettable theatre and for the first time ever they are travelling to London to pioneer their innovative community theatre project here at LSBU. This is a fantastic opportunity for our students, and a good example of the importance of networking in practice.
The project first came about when I went to see my friend and ex-student David Oyelowo (known for his roles in Selma, Nightingale and Jack Reacher) starring in the NYTW sell-out production of Othello in January of this year. Having followed David’s career closely over the last 20 years, I have seen the ways in which his early training and exposure to excellent drama education practice in college, and with the National Theatre Connections programme, enabled him to get his first steps on the ladder to his current fame as a Hollywood star.
In what feels like a full circle, watching David in New York introduced me to the wonderful NYTW and a meeting there allowed me to bring their amazing work to my current students at LSBU – and so the process begins again. And as we all know, the stars of tomorrow are born today.
Programmes such as NYTW’s Mind the Gap! work on so many different levels: as an excellent example of innovative, creative arts and community education, as training and skills development for our students and also as potential CV development. High quality arts education projects create those invaluable networking opportunities which are so crucial to young performers beginning to make their way in this most competitive of industries.
Over the course of this week, NYTW will be working intensively with our Drama and Performance students and members of the Southwark Playhouse Elders Company to share, tell and perform stories in an intergenerational theatre project creating new plays inspired by the unique experiences of the participants. Studying theatre is not all about trying to interpret Waiting for Godot and using glitter in as many different ways as possible on a stage: performing arts careers begin at university, and I will be encouraging my students to squeeze this opportunity for all it is worth – it could soon be them coming back to LSBU to give a hand up to the next big name to hit the stage or screen.