ArtsEd 'Boost for School Performing Arts'

Many schools are beginning to recognize that upping their game in the arts represents a great opportunity to stand out from the crowd and to recruit students who view the arts as a priority. With the arrival of ArtsEd in the UAE several partner schools have already seen the benefits
ArtsEd 'Boost for School Performing Arts'
By James Mullan
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ArtsEd, arguably the UK’s most prestigious school for the performing arts, has found a new home in Dubai at the QE2 Theatre.  In its centenary this year, this is the school’s first foray overseas. Its hands-on President is the legendary Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber responsible for the most popular musical theatre over the last forty years with hits including ‘Cats’, ‘Les Miserables’ and ‘Phantom of the Opera’. caught up with Principal Chris Hocking and Head of Outreach Jonathan Goodwin on their recent visit to Dubai. 

What do you believe makes ArtsEd stand out?

What makes us unique from other drama schools is that we have students from year 7 to year 11, 6thform and B.A Hons musical theatre and also have a masters in acting and we’re all in the same building. It’s fantastic because for the younger children they see the older ones progress to the West End theatres or the Royal Shakespeare Company or to Hollywood so it’s really aspirational for them. For the older students who are leaving home for the first time and learning how to make their way in the world they still see younger children so there’s a real sense of social responsibility.  We all exist very nicely together

When it comes to your undergraduate and graduate courses how do you differ from other drama schools?

ArtsEd is good at what it does. We focus. We don’t have 25 different courses. We know what we’re brilliant at and stay focused on that. A lot of other drama schools offer multitudes of BAs and European this or that. We offer one Masters in Acting, BA Musical Theatre, BA acting and that’s it. The business that we’re in really appreciates that because we produce great students but only a small number of graduates – around 30 each year.

You have quite a few famous alumni, so go on, drop some names

Our president is Andrew Lloyd Weber, also known as The Lord. He’s very hands on and we have a quite starry alumni ranging from Julie Andrews, Darcey Bussell, Danny Mac, Dame Angela Lansbury and Lashana Lynch recently announced as a star of the next Bond movie.  Last year seven of our musical theatre graduates finished their course and went straight into  'Les Miserables' in London's West End including filling the roles of Marius and Cosette.

How did you decide to set up in the UAE?

Sylvia Young Theatre School (SYTS) ran some holiday programmes here and there was an enormous demand for a longer-term strategic relationship with schools.  SYTS, though, felt that the holiday programmes would be the limit of their commitment in Dubai.  At this stage Chris, who had recently been appointed as principal to Arts Ed stepped in to meet the demand for long term relationships with schools where teachers and performers would come to Dubai from London to work with teachers and students here. We know there’s lots of energy here from many schools and we spoke to the schools who were delighted to work with an organization that has such a phenomenal international pedigree.  Jonathan came out and we have signed agreements with King’s Al Barsha, DESC, JC, JPS, GEMS WSO and we’ll be doing work with other schools. We have no intention in setting up a school here, we’re only going to work with our partner schools. 

It’s not a franchising model it’s very much about ArtsEd people working with the schools so that’s a way in which we can control quality. Dubai is incredibly brand conscious and this is arguably the strongest brand in performing arts in the UK.

What’s the reaction been like from schools in Dubai?

We know that budgets are tight in schools here.  But this is an investment that schools recognize will help them stand head and shoulders above other schools that talk about performing arts. They may have great theatres but we can provide the expertise to help them make the most of what they’ve got.

Musical theatre is moving very quickly so we’ll be able to bring the best and latest developments to the children here.  There’s an awful lot of talent and passion here but it just needs refining to make it more professional so that they can compete. 

What programmes will you be offering?

We have been working with schools that are not just looking for drama. It’s about what we can do with drama to help develop all of those creative skills including improving confidence and helping them speak publicly. There are also programme involving transition from year 6 into 7 and we’ll look at how we can support their GCSE and A level students as well as prepare them for bootcamps for drama school auditions and university interviews.

So you’re not just working with children who are aiming for a career as professional performers?

One of the things I (Chris) always say is that if you want to be an actor that has to be the only thing you want to do – there can be no Plan B! This is obviously a very small number of children but there are a large number in most schools who really enjoy doing the arts and this will help them later in life.

All of the research now shows that the performing arts are a key tool in finding creative thinkers and future leaders. I have testimonials from ArtEd students who are now doctors and lawyers, for instance. And all of them have said if they hadn’t been involved in the arts in some way studying at GCSE or A level or being involved in productions they wouldn’t be where they are today. It was fundamentally one of the most important subjects that they’ve ever done which they still use on a daily basis today. 

How have you found working with the schools in Dubai so far?

The schools that we’ve aligned with in Dubai are great schools. They’re already doing great things for their pupils.  There is a real sense of partnership about how we can work together.  We’re not just parachuting in with a one size fits all approach. We are looking at their teaching plans, finding out where we can help across that plan and then designing bespoke programmes for each of our six partners.  So each of the partners will have a completely different set of interventions. We’ll also be running professional development courses for their staff so eventually they also will be upskilled. 

Any striking things about the UAE school scene?

From a teaching point of view what’s been joyous has been the ethos and how they see the value of the arts. There’s a real thirst and a passion about how they see the arts and what they can do for their children. This is in stark contrast to the situation in the UK. School facilities are incredible here.  We’ve also been very impressed by the number of students who want to participate in our programmes.

Will there be opportunities for kids here to go to ArtsEd in London?

Yes, one school already has a programme where they go to London and we’re now part of that programme. We have another school where the teachers are going to spend a week at ArtsEd. We’ll put them into our classes with our undergraduates. As we progress that element of upskilling staff will become increasingly evident.

We will also be offering scholarships for kids here to come to London.  We know that we’ll have these available for our summer programmes. 

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