TAITMAIL Wimbledon’s acting lesson

Wimbledon College of Arts is turfing out its fine arts operation so that it can teach acting. In three years or so, if things go according to plan, half of the thousand students in the leafiest corner of the University of the Arts London (UAL) empire will be performers; the other half will be costume or set designers.


It’s a rationalisation of the UAL group, with Camberwell College of Arts expanding its fine arts teaching to take the Wimbledon faculty so that Wimbledon, with its own theatre (being modified to include dressing rooms), becomes devoted to the performance arts.
 
It makes sense, tidying up what had been a rather clumsy lumping together of six institutions under the UAL umbrella with inevitable overlaps.
 
But it also repositions the UAL and Wimbledon in particular in a high education sector which is already well served, some will say, as the conservatoires compete for a shrinking client base.
 
Because Brexit is going to hit hard if there is no deal for student interchange. Of the 2.3m higher education students in the UK, 138,000 are from the EU - that is 6% of our a student body, with 13% coming from the whole of the rest of the world. In spite of a brief recent panic rush as March 29 and no deal loomed, there has been a steady decline in European students coming here over the past two years. 

So there’s a very real possibility of our universities being closed to European students, who pay the same tuition fees as UK students amounting to £130m, £130m the universities will lose.
 
At Wimbledon 15% of the student body is from the EU. The UAL pro-vice chancellor in charge of Chelsea, Camberwell and Wimbledon colleges, David Crow, says that’s a large chunk of students and with the value of the pound dropping he may have to charge those EU students that are able to come overseas rates, up to £38,000 a year. 
 
The big damage, he says, will be in the cultural exchange, the mix, because many of his best students come from the EU. “It’s a big loss to who we are if we lose them” he says.
 
And for theatre conservatoires it means looking beyond Europe for their complements, and UAL has been working on expanding contacts and relationships with China, for instance, both bringing their students here and exchanging with our young artists going there for a year or two. It also means they will be looking harder at the home market to try to persuade those doing their A-levels to choose their campuses for their next stage, made more difficult by the fact that arts subjects are absent from most A-level syllabuses.
 
Crow and the dean of performance, Simon Betts, are careful not to call their new set-up a “drama school”: that snacks of proscenium arches, men in tights and Hamlet soliloquies. Normally, to get into drama school you must pass an audition for which there is usually a fee of £40-50, and if you're mad keen to be an actor you might be applying to four or five academies, maybe £200 in addition fees plus your fares and maybe overnight accommodation. 
 
Wimbledon have not only done away with audition fees, they have no auditions. Reading out Henry V’s speech at Harfleur, says Betts, tells you nothing about a young person’s creative mind. The UAL colleges will be spreading into their local communities more, especially at Camberwell, to attract kids from the estates who would never have dreamed of a creative career. At Wimbledon they have workshops instead of auditions, where applicants will be “invited to take part in experiential interviewing events”, which in real language means letting them be inventive under the guidance of professional young actors, “developing script, developing their current acting skill” for which they won’t have to mug up on yards of Pinter. Once in, the actors will work closely with the college’s set designers, costume designers and make-up artists who already have international reputations, plus lighting and sound engineers and even entrepreneurialism – they expect business partnerships to be forged with business plans that will lead seamlessly into the outside world. “Total performance” Betts calls it.
 
In truth, Crow adds, some of those conservatoires probably will be rethinking their offer, “money will be tight, so they will be thinking about larger student groups, more diverse audiences, and maybe the sorts of things we’re talking about will be an issue for them...”

Wimbledon College of Arts is turfing out its fine arts operation so that it can teach acting. In three years or so, if things go according to plan, half of the thousand students in the leafiest corner of the University of the Arts London (UAL) empire will be performers; the other half will be costume or set designers.
 
It’s a rationalisation of the UAL group, with Camberwell College of Arts expanding its fine arts teaching to take the Wimbledon faculty so that Wimbledon, with its own theatre (being modified to include dressing rooms), becomes devoted to the performance arts.
 
It makes sense, tidying up what had been a rather clumsy lumping together of six institutions under the UAL umbrella with inevitable overlaps.
 
But it also repositions the UAL and Wimbledon in particular in a high education sector which is already well served, some will say, as the conservatoires compete for a shrinking client base.
 
Because Brexit is going to hit hard if there is no deal for student interchange. Of the 2.3m higher education students in the UK, 138,000 are from the EU - that is 6% of our a student body, with 13% coming from the whole of the rest of the world. In spite of a brief recent panic rush as March 29 and no deal loomed, there has been a steady decline in European students coming here over the past two years. 

 

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