‘The idea is to find people with real potential’: Accessible vocational training at Lyric Hammersmith

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It isn’t every day I stumble across a strong new vocational training opportunity which is almost free to the participants. I refer to the Lyric Ensemble which piloted in the 2017/18 academic year and has just started work with its second group.

Fifteen young actors, aged 18-25 are recruited to form an ensemble. Director of young people at the Lyric, Nicholai La Barrie, tells me he auditioned 80 earlier this term for the new 2018/19 cohort. “They include writers, actors, filmmakers, musicians, people who are interested in directing or producing,” says La Barrie. “It’s a very rich mix of talent and our catchphrase is ‘training to perform’.”

The idea is to find people with real potential who haven’t accessed training before and aren’t likely to. “It’s a way of opening up the industry to young people who are prevented from going to drama school by perceived or actual barriers” he explains. Some of the 15 are supported by bursaries but even full fees are very low. “Right across the education and learning work we do here the average fee is £4 a session” observes executive director Sian Alexander as the three of us sip tea in the Lyric’s rather nice café area.

The 15 ensemble members come to the Lyric two evenings per week for nine months at the end of which they create a studio show. Along the way they also take part in intensive weeks of training. “And of course we keep an eye on production values, standards and rigour,” La Barrie adds, explaining that last year there was a lot of focus on, for example, movement, improvisation, text and character. “What they do has got to be good. We’re a professional theatre.” This year the emphasis is political so the end result show will be different. Next year (2019/20) it will be something else again, thematically, depending on who directs it.

Casting directors came to last summer’s shows. La Barrie assures me happily that each individual actor “shaped up” and that almost all got some sort of representation at the end of the course. “They were snapped up,” he says.  And that, obviously, is the acid test. Without an agent your chances of getting professional work are infinitesimal.

The groups are gloriously diverse and inclusive. They include people – often from youth theatres – of all ethnic and economic backgrounds as well as LBGT and people with disabilities.

Lyric Hammersmith will be enrolling its 2019/20 group in September next year. Some applicants will, predictably, already be Lyric Hammersmith members. But it’s open to all. Give it a whirl if you or any West London young person close to you is looking for a way of training without either leaving home or incurring debt

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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 on LinkedinSusan Elkin on Twitter
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.