No monkeying around in the ‘Year of the Monkey’

In Features, London theatre, Opinion by Susan ElkinLeave a Comment

I have followed the success of Fourth Monkey Training Company, which launched in 2010, almost since before it was a twinkle in Steve Green’s eye. Today it lives in a very businesslike building on Seven Sisters Road near Finsbury Park Station. They call it – obviously – The Monkey House and it includes lots of good studios, a transverse performance space, offices for “monkey business” and very nice loos.

Last week I revisited it – always a pleasure because Steve and his colleagues give me the warmest, most congenial of welcomes and a good cup of tea. In the past, I’ve been to the company’s shows there but this time I was just dropping in for a chat.

The company – both the twelve-month “Year of the Monkey” course and the two-year rep course –  is going well. Some students progress from one course to the other which means they have effectively trained for the full three years. I asked about outcomes, as I always do when I’m in a training establishment, and Steve had a sheet of stats ready for me.

Of the 33 students who graduated from the two-year course this year all are still in the industry. Of last year’s 27 only one has stepped out of the industry. The 2015 cohort of 26  are all still on board and only two, who graduated in 2014 (when there were 22 students)  have left the industry. Those are pretty impressive retention rates by any standard.

So do they all get representation with decent agents? “About 80% of them do” says Steve adding that a growing number of students are making a positive decision not to sign up with agents because they want to start their own companies and be fully independent.

“Of course I’m really proud and ever so pleased when someone tells me that she or he has a job at The Globe or the RSC” says Steve. “But what excites me most of all is a student or graduate’s proactive decision to create work of their own. It shows how empowering our training really is and I’m delighted”. He adds that, as Fourth Monkey TC develops, they are finding ways of facilitating such companies by encouraging them to use the in-house performance space.

The training includes a strong emphasis on Elizabethan and Jacobean drama – although they also do lots of other work too –  and plenty of collaboration. They have done Marlowe in partnership with the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury and the Marlowe Society for example. Students have been involved in prison projects, site-specific work and lots more. The production of The Elephant Man which toured in 2014 provided paid work for a Fourth Monkey graduate rep company and Steve is hoping to repeat this initiative.

Above all Steve strives for transparency and talks to me very openly – given that he knows that I shall probably go public on anything he says. He admits, for example, that recruitment isn’t always easy given that his students have no access to funding other than career development loans from banks and scholarships such as one in partnership with The Stage. “But we do find the talented students we want every year” he says. “And whatever the financial constraints we have no plans for expanding our numbers. The amount of work out there for graduating performers is finite.”

I leave with a (simian?) spring in my step looking forward to seeing Fourth Monkey’s Romeo and Juliet and/or The Tempest in the spring.

Fourth Monkey’s 2017 production of The White Devil. Photograph: Julia Wills

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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin is a former teacher of secondary English. She has also been a very active and eclectic freelance journalist for more than 25 years. She now focuses on education, performing arts and books, and was education and training editor at The Stage newspaper 2015-2016. Susan is the author of over 40 books, mostly on education and performing arts topics, including So You Want to Work in Theatre (Nick Hern Books). In 2016, she launched her personal website susanelkin.co.uk.
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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin is a former teacher of secondary English. She has also been a very active and eclectic freelance journalist for more than 25 years. She now focuses on education, performing arts and books, and was education and training editor at The Stage newspaper 2015-2016. Susan is the author of over 40 books, mostly on education and performing arts topics, including So You Want to Work in Theatre (Nick Hern Books). In 2016, she launched her personal website susanelkin.co.uk.