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BLOG: Annemarie Lewis Thomas… Only working with the working!

Annemarie LewisWell first off I’d like to say a massive thanks to those of you that read and then spread the news of my first foray into blogging. Special mention should go to those brave souls from other colleges who agreed with the sentiments of my first blog and were not only brave enough to RT or share its contents across the twittersphere or FB but also to name where they were currently working (and please god they are still working there as I’m writing blog No 2). This blogging lark can be really dangerous as I found out myself back in the early days of The MTA. Back in 2009 I was quoted on a blog practically word for word (so I had no grounds to complain about being misrepresented) for saying at an MTA audition day that one of our key policies was to only employ staff that were still currently working in professional theatre at West End (or equivalent) level. Little did I think that such an innocuous statement would provide such a torrent of abuse. You see I genuinely thought that what I was saying was a no-brainer.

I believe that every vocational college should get staff that a) are still active in the industry (how many of you were taught by the bitter old teacher that kept telling you how hard it was and how you’d never work, or it wasn’t like that in their day?) b) had indeed once worked in the industry (surely the clue here is in the word vocational…you can indeed be the best tap/singing/acting teacher in the world…but I don’t think that you should be working in a vocational college as you don’t understand the psychological demands that a performer has thrust upon them… therefore I wanted a faculty who could be sympathetic to all aspects of my students’ careers, and our industry changes so much year on year) and c) also has a passion and a gift/love for teaching (that was the hook that all the detractors really tried to hang me by… the old ‘being a performer doesn’t make you a good teacher line… as if I hadn’t worked that one out for myself) My how the debate raged on.

I was called arrogant for having such radical ideas. I quickly worked out who some of the anonymous commentators were (they were of course the people that had fired me for whistle blowing on their own corrupt dealings). At first I attempted to answer them thinking that logic would out… how wrong I was… everything I said was twisted into some ridiculous statement that I couldn’t even begin to comprehend and then it struck me. The people that were genuinely disgusted by my suggestion were probably the people that were working in vocational colleges with no industry experience – ‘the people directly under fire’ from this upstart.

This policy has continued to be challenging, we regularly audit the staff to ensure that everyone (including me) are continuing to work professionally, and every so often we have to let people go as they’ve decided to retire, and I have to say I hate that part of my job because I know that I’m losing great (and often loyal) staff. BUT the policy is there for a really good reason and fresh people come in with a renewed spirit and energy and we all learn something a bit different again. I never feel too bad as I know that other colleges will snap up the staff that I’ve had to let go of and they’re bloody lucky to have them. If The MTA wants to keep moving forward we have to ensure that our faculty doesn’t get stale, and yes I know that’s hard but that’s the industry that we’re all in. Let’s face it we are all replaceable and there’s even a valuable lesson in our students seeing that within our faculty.

So the point of this blog? Well clearly to finally give myself the right of reply to the people that six years ago sanctimoniously told me that my idea of only having working professionals at a vocational college was ludicrous – how wrong they were. I have the most phenomenal faculty, all of whom are freelance (bar my senior faculty who are all on some silly 0. something scales as it’s part of my ethical thinking that people shouldn’t earn their living from just one college as it has the potential to make them complacent as a large salary is very seductive). I’m thrilled to say that the retention rate of our staff is ridiculously high (of course they come and go a lot to go and do professional jobs, but before anybody questions it, we have a rigorous paper trail in place whereby everything is written down so that progression is tracked on a daily basis so that if staff have to go away we all know exactly where every student is at any given point in every subject therefore their training does not suffer, we have every angle covered!)

The big joy of starting The MTA was being able to create a brand new college – with rules and policies that nobody had really tried before. What thrilled me about that was how the industry embraced it with a real interest and open mindedness, with such support from the beginning, but the ‘establishment’ really didn’t want to know, which of course makes someone like me want to shout all the louder, especially when you realise what can be achieved!

Main image of MTA performance of Dougal Irvine’s In Touch

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The Reviews Hub - Features
Our Features team is under the editorship of Nicole Craft. The team is responsible for sourcing interviews, articles, competitions from across the country. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.