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OPINION: Annemarie Lewis Thomas – Mentoring the mentors


Annemarie LewisSo that’s it then – another academic year over. Or as I like to see it…I’ve survived another 12 months of madness. Of course, such is the nature of our course, in just three weeks time it’ll all start again. As I say every year, whilethe notion of a running a two-year programme makes so much sense for the students and for the staff members having to manage and teach the course throughout the 12 months (which in reality at our place is just me and the old PA, as all the other staff get certain show terms off), it’s a rather relentless pace. However, I’ve now got three weeks still on the carousel, but predominantly working from home…so all is well with the world, and I’ll actually get to spend some time with my family (lucky them).

The MTA had another outstanding year….we undertook ‘the big move’, we saw the class of 2015 graduate on Sunday with over half of them having already secured their first professional contracts, and we’ve managed to maintain our record of 100% of our students graduating with offers of agent representation. I’d be interested to know how many other colleges have achieved this statistic from the beginning? As ever I stress that when we talk about representation I’m talking about independent offers, we don’t have an MTA agency that helps our lot along until they get an unrelated offer. It’s surprising how many colleges claim this statistic though while not being clear that they themselves are actually representing a percentage of their students.. That’s not to say that in the future we won’t start up an agency…never say never and all that…it’s just interesting the ‘spin’ that certain places put on their stats.

For some reason this year we’ve created a bit more of a buzz than normal. I’ve had an increasing number of emails off people asking me whether I’ve seen that ‘so and so’ college has started to say/apply some of our unique principles. Sadly just this week I’ve had to take a new college to task for practically cutting and pasting our website and using it as their own source material. If nothing else you would have thought that they would have removed the word ‘unique’ eh? However, all is good…discussions have been had, and new wording is being thought about even as I type (from them I should add…not me).

I still get peeved that we still don’t have any colleges even coming close to attempting our pastoral care model. In the recent political news, the new shadow cabinet will have a Minister for Mental Health – yet we’re still the only UK college that has a Mental Health practitioner at the heart of our faculty. Still the lone voice shouting in the wilderness, but that’s OK, because somebody has to be. Interesting when people are adopting so many of our ideas, how none of them are adopting the one that we think that really matters (of course, this is also the one that costs us the most money).

Obviously running a drama college is a business, so it’s my job to equally have a look around the other websites of our competitors to see what’s going in their world. Not that I think that any of us are really competing. I mean all the established colleges are well on their way to the marathon finishing line when we’re merely standing at the start of it warming up. Then there’s the basic fact that all of us should be offering something so unique, none of us are actually in competition with each other – we’re just all offering different options.

It would seem that the buzz word of the year has become this idea of having mentors for your students. Now I just don’t get this at all. I’ve long admired the RADA system of buddying up past students with current students (which I guess is where this mentoring idea stems from?) I think that it’s great that you’d want to ‘give back’ to your college in such a way. I suppose in a much more informal way we try to do that with our college for life policy. Our ambassadors are certainly very active in the lives of our current students. In fact this week they’re essentially holding their own AGM to work out how best to be an ambassador and what that rôle means.

Anyway, back to mentoring….here’s my difficulty with it. Shouldn’t your faculty be the mentors to your students? I appreciate we’re unique insomuch as that we only employ people that are active in the industry, so if a question does come up about an audition, a company…a..whatever. We usually have someone on the staff that can just answer the question. The definition of a mentor is ‘an experienced and trusted adviser’…but surely that’s your faculty? Isn’t that what you’re paying your money for. I don’t know? Is there an argument for you can’t have too many mentors? But then my lot by virtue of our faculty have around 40 at their disposal at any one time.

I know that some of the ‘mentors’ of the colleges that apply this system take their rôle really seriously and make themselves constantly available to their mentees….but again I ask – shouldn’t that be the rôle of their tutors?

So I keep coming back to – I just don’t get it. However, the joy of life is that we don’t all have ‘to get’ everything. I just hope that all the amazing performers acting as mentors get reimbursed when necessary and of course…are given the skill set and training to spot problems that maybe need a different sort of professional care…and then even more importantly, that the college that they’re working/volunteering for, has a pastoral system in place that will support their mentee in the appropriate manner. Of course…that might mean that one day soon, all the colleges will need to employ a mental health professional!

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