We are just entering the final week of rehearsals for our production of Shakespeare’s Henry V. This project marks the first of Cyphers’ collaborations with student theatre groups in an attempt to bridge the gap between the worlds of student and professional theatre. This autumn we have been working with the King’s Shakespeare Company (KSC), a student group based at King’s College London.
Not that long ago, student drama was a useful initial grounding in theatre before embarking upon formal training after graduating – all whilst providing yourself with that all important ‘backup’ degree. Now a first degree lumbers students with at least £30,000 worth of debt, making specialist training difficult for most and impossible for many. There are a wealth of training opportunities for those wishing to pursue a career in theatre at the moment – more so than ever – but how are you supposed to pay for these? The pressure to specialise at a younger and younger age means that people are forced to choose between university and drama school in a way that was never the case before.
Certainly for me (and I got through university before the threefold hike in fees) an MA in acting or directing was simply not an option. For me, the only option was to find my own way, make my own work and make the most of the few contacts I had. I strongly believe that this is the best training anyone can have. We need to provide actors with more apprentice-style training, learning from their peers on the job rather than in the cloistered environment of drama school. Drama school is right for many but it certainly should not be the only way.
This is what forms the central motivation behind this project. There’s a huge wealth of talent in student drama that goes largely unnoticed. Yes there are student productions that you cringe at but in my experience it is rare to leave a piece of student theatre without thinking, of at least one performer: “that actor has serious talent”. Student drama has long been a training ground for budding directors, so why shouldn’t it be for actors as well?
The main aim of this project is to find these exceptionally talented performers and give them the opportunity to experience working on a professional production alongside a professional team. Not only does this give them the experience but it also gives them their first professional credit. This is not only for actors either: I also have a student Assistant Director and we have an Associate Producer from KSC as well. We hope to give opportunities to people interested in all aspects of theatre.
The pleasant surprise over the past few weeks, is that it has become a two-way learning process: the students have learnt from their professional counterparts but the professional actors have been reminded to enjoy their work and to give to their fellow performers. So far the experiment has been a huge success and I challenge anyone who sees Henry V next week to tell student from professional on stage.
Marcus Bazley is a director, actor and theatre practitioner. He is Artistic Director of Cyphers which is putting on Henry V at The Proud Archivist, N1 5ET on 8, 9, 10 and 12 October. Tickets can be purchased here, and more details can be found on Cyphers’s website.