Once A Catholic
The Academy of Creative Training
By Xenia Gregoriadis
"Where are the Albert Finneys, the Tom Courtenays, the Richard Burtons? Where are all these great, gritty regional actors?" This was the thinking behind the opening of the Academy Of Creative Training, explains principal Jeanette Eddisford.
Founded by actor and director John Moulder Brown in 1997, ACT was intended as an antidote to the prohibitively expensive drama schools in London which seemed to be producing a homogenous range of graduates - all from privileged, middle-class backgrounds. John was determined to cultivate the raw talent lying out there undiscovered.
Now approaching its tenth birthday ACT has become a field of dreams, enabling aspiring artists with limited means or restrictive circumstances to develop the skills needed to pursue acting as a career. A one-year foundation course and two year diploma, with classes in the evenings and at weekends, allows students to work and/or care for dependents, while studying at the same time. Tutors work for £10 less per hour than the going rate which helps to keep fees low, and two thirds of graduates currently go on to earn money as professional actors.
The independently run ACT is serving an important purpose nationally, says Andrea Brooks who directs Lucy, the first of two plays being performed for the public by final year ACT students this week at Brighton's Pavilion Theatre. "I work at several other mainstream drama schools, such as RADA and Central. They are now so expensive you tend to just get students who are all between 19 and 22, all from moderately wealthy backgrounds. It is a limited group of people to do theatre with - limited in age, experience and background. The television and film industry is very grateful and curious about the people coming in to the industry later in life. It is also very enjoyable dealing with actors who have lives, jobs and children outside of the school to ground them," she adds. "They seem to have more life experience to draw upon for joys and traumas, unlike a student who has never had to pay a gas bill."
Like Andrea who runs Zygo Arts, a Brighton-based arts and theatre company, and regularly mentors young artists, all the tutors at ACT are experienced professional actors and/or directors with various areas of expertise. Such credentials suggest audiences won't be disappointed with the standard of acting in either Lucy or Once a Catholic, which follows.
Lucy, written by local talent Ed Harris and set on an island called Britneygrad - a play on Britney Spears and Stalingrad - is, according to Andrea, "like watching Shameless mixed with a muscular kind of poetry". It transforms what we might hear on the streets of Brighton, "on West Street between midnight and 3am", into something quite surreal, involving cannibalism and conjoined twins, romance and ridicule. Described as an "epic dystopian romp", Andrea says, "It is a unique, bizarre piece of writing, hugely energetic and reflective of a culture that is present throughout the UK, a culture that mistrusts anything other than the lowest common denominator. It is dark and terrible, and at other moments funny and stunningly beautiful."
Once a Catholic is directed by ACT tutor and professional actor and director Aaron Swartz. Written by Mary O'Malley, it's a fast-paced "black comedy set in a Fifties London convent school for girls. With its serious psychological undertones concerning religious and sexual oppression, the play is an apposite choice from Aaron who is also training as an integrative arts psychotherapist in London. "Drama is not therapy but it can have a therapeutic effect," says Aaron, who believes ACT also has an important function closer to home, in the community. "It is helping people fulfil their creativity. When people get in touch with their creativity, things shift. It is a great way for people to discover themselves, and challenge their demons." He also pays tribute to the students' "incredible dedication."
"Some of them have made huge sacrifices to be here", he says. "Some of the students have had a lot of knocks. It brings a maturity and depth to the place."
From the The Argus, first published Friday 30th Mar 2007 © Newsquest Media Group 2007
in Family Affairs
TV actor relishes teaching role
In two months he will be mixing with Hugh Grant but for now Richard Hawley is quite content with his job as a teacher.The Brighton-based actor, known for parts in ITV's Prime Suspect, Jane Eyre and the Channel 5 soap Family Affairs, has landed a role alongside Grant in the film Love Actually, which is being shot in September. Before then, he is channelling his energies into helping students at the Academy for Creative Training (ACT) in Rock Place, Kemp Town, where he has just started teaching. Richard, 46, said: "I taught at a workshop last year and enjoyed it so much I started jointly teaching the acting technique course a few weeks ago.
"One of the reasons I wanted to teach was to both give and take back. It is a way to keep practising your art and is a big learning curve for me. Humans have the tendency to think one person has the answer to things but I don't agree. There are just people who are further on than others." ACT was set up five years ago after a group of producers, directors, writers and agents, including Lionel Bart, who wrote the musical version of Oliver!, realised that raw creative talent was lying undiscovered and undeveloped. They decided to create a centre of excellence, which eventually became ACT.
Vice principal Janette Eddisford said: "The idea was to set up a place where the timetable accommodates people who have to work to pay bills while at the same time ensuring they get the very best training. "We have been successful. Most of our former students are working in the industry and one of them, Sidney Sloan, is the face of CBeebies. The problem is we need funding. We have one sponsored place, the Lionel Bart Award, but we need more. There are people we want to give a place to and who have a lot of talent but cannot afford the fees."
All the teachers at the school are working directors or actors. With Love Actually on the horizon, Richard has also recently been filming The Hound Of The Baskervilles for the BBC and taking part in some cutting edge theatre at the Vienna Festival. He said: "People come to ACT on a dream. Everyone goes into acting on a dream and we have a responsibility not to manipulate that dream but to give foundation stones. Taking our own experiences as actors, we can be very responsive in what we teach."
ACT runs two-week workshops, foundation courses and two-year drama courses. The two-year students are selected on the abilities they display during the workshops, which are open to all. Anyone who is interested in courses or sponsoring a student should call 01273 818267.
The Argus. Tuesday, 2 July 2002.
Broker gives it up for the stage
Gary Gibson was a high-flying broker who thrived in a world of cut-throat competition ... until two years ago. He had good prospects for promotion and was more or less guaranteed a job as a director at a computer firm. Then he gave it all up and moved to Brighton to become an actor. He struggled through working as a postman to support his family while studying at Brighton's only acting academy, The Academy of Creative Training. But his dream kept him going and now all the hard work has paid off for Gary who is appearing in a production of Roald Dahl's The Twits which comes to Brighton in April.
Gary Gibson, whose stage name is Sidney Sloane, said: "I loved my career, but I had been doing it for ten years and had come to a crossroads in my life. I enjoyed the communication aspect of my job, but I needed a bigger challenge." When Mr Gibson saw an advert in The Argus for the acting academy in April 1997, he knew he had to pursue it. He had a faint memory of performing in a school play when he was 14, but that was it. Mr Gibson, of Upper Bevendean Avenue, Brighton, said: "I never even had an inkling I may go into acting."
He auditioned for the two-year drama course in August 1997, attending a two-week workshop in February 1998 and began the course in April.
Mr Gibson, 33, said: "That was it, I was completely hooked. Nothing was going to stop me. I knew I would be giving up a lot, particularly financially, but I never had any doubts. I trusted my gut instincts and believed in myself." He gave up his well-paid job as a broker in London and became a postman in Brighton. He said: "My wife had just given birth to our son Joshua Ali, so it was a difficult time to take a massive cut in wages. "I worked 5am to 1pm doing my deliveries, I slept from 1pm to 6pm, had classes from 7pm to 10pm and then would often do overtime at the post office through the night. But the whole time the classes got me through."
Now less than a year after he graduated, he is appearing in The Twits. As the narrator, he tells the darkly humorous story of Mr and Mrs Twit.
When the revolting Mr Twit orders the Muggle Wump monkeys to spend their lives upside down on their heads in a cage and Mrs Twit reveals her desire for birds in her cooking pot, it is the perfect recipe for rebellion. Mr Gibson said: "I have real freedom to get into the role and have a lot of fun. "My favourite bit of the play is when the monkeys and the roly-poly bird turn the Twits' world upside down to get their own back on them. "The Twits are just about to get their gun out to shoot the birds, when I blow a whistle and all of the audience have to put their shoes on their hands and duck.
"It's great as kids have no inhibitions, so I try and let them create their own world. Too many children's stories don't leave enough up to the imagination. The Twits is fabulous for kids and adults of all ages. I have no fear when I am up on stage. Every time I say a thank you to God. I am so grateful for the opportunity to make people feel something in their heart or their soul. When I am up on stage I know it has all been worth it." The Twits is at the Theatre Royal in Brighton from April 10 to 14.
The Argus, Wednesday, 7 March 2001