Working at a leading drama school for a number of years, and beforehand working professionally as a theatre stage manager and production manager, I have welcomed the increasing level of social and ethnic diversity amongst student and professional actors, directors and writers. This is evident on stage and on screen; however this change is not remotely reflected backstage – in fact I have only met two non-white people working in technical theatre; conversations across the drama schools and colleagues in the theatre industry confirm this lack of diversity.
My disappointment is borne out of a frustration that so many training and career opportunities are being lost as a consequence – young people are simply unaware of the range of exciting and challenging jobs out there. At Bristol Old Vic Theatre School (BOVTS) I have seen the results of this lack of awareness at first hand, namely that there are far fewer applicants for stage management, technical, costume and other production courses compared to acting courses and yet the job prospects far outweigh those for performers. I would estimate that the applicant to places ratio for technical courses is about 4:1, whereas for acting it is as high as 100:1.
So in early 2015 I felt it was time to take a fresh look at this problem. We have begun working with Bristol Old Vic’s Young Company to create a small group of stage managers and technicians to work alongside their young actors. BOV already has a wide network of school and college contacts; we have increased this network through organisations such as Boomsatsuma who are working on creative projects with young people in less advantaged parts of the Bristol area. The aim is to provide specialist backstage skills classes at BOVTS followed by opportunities to work on Young Company (BOVYC) and other productions in a professional theatre setting.
To date eight young people have been involved with a number of them moving on to work on BOVYC’s production of ‘St Joan of the Stockyards’ in January 2016. We will be evaluating with the young techs how this went and how we can and will develop this further. The next event planned is a weeklong contemporary dance summer school with young techs and dancers working on realising performance pieces together. More about this in due course….
© Paul Rummer/StageTalk Magazine 2016