Norwich Theatre Royal to expand its education program

Budding performers and would-be backstage workers in Norwich look set to receive a major boost as Norwich Theatre Royal reveals new plans for further and higher education.

The announcement was made at the organisation's annual general meeting yesterday as the theatre also celebrated the completion of its major fundraising drive for the venue's �10m refurbishment.

Peter Wilson, Norwich Theatre Royal chief executive, told the Evening News: 'We have dealt with the bricks and mortar and now we want to deal with the soul and spirit.'

He said in the next 15 years it is estimated the live entertainment industry will generate 30,000 new backstage jobs nationally, and the theatre, in partnership with City College Norwich, has been looking at creating a further education diploma in technical theatre.

'We have been examining over the last few months a collaborative project to create a theatrical technical skills training course to teach our own and further education students the rudiments of lighting, sound, rigging, stage management and other skills,' he said.

'This is in its early stages. But it will be a big project, as befits the largest and most ambitious theatre in the eastern region.'

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He said setting up the new course was likely to involve the construction of a new building, and confirmed the theatre was 'looking positively' at a site to construct a training theatre close to the Theatre Royal.

Mr Wilson said he hoped to be able to publicise more details about the plans by June next year.

Further into the future, the Theatre Royal also hopes to be involved in a similar partnership for a higher education technical theatre course.

Mr Wilson said the theatre had spoken to both Norwich University College of the Arts and the University of East Anglia about the possibility of a higher education course which could incorporate the use of Norwich Playhouse.

The theatre also announced plans yesterday to offer financial help to talented young performers in their first year at drama school.

The bursary scheme, named after the late Sir James Cleminson, a past chairman of the theatre, will be for students of the theatre's own arts courses who have been offered a place at an accredited drama school.

Every year for the next three years there will be a �9,000 funding pot available, and each individual student awarded a bursary will receive funding of up to �3,000.

It will help young performers follow in the footsteps of former arts course students such as Sam Claflin, who is about to appear in the latest Pirates of the Caribbean film, and Daisy Wood, who is currently playing Eponine in Les Miserables in the West End.

These latest ventures will build on the theatre's already rich background in education.

Norwich Theatre Royal has well established programs in other educational areas including the Theatre Royal Arts Courses that have been going since 1972 and now train more than 700 people of all ages in traditional theatre skills.

The theatre's education department aims to give schools and young people increased access to theatre through reduced price tickets, special performances aimed at schools, workshops, events, backstage tours and work experience.

Its Norfolk Schools Project, which began in 1997, also gives schoolchildren the chance to study professional productions and create and perform their own versions on the Theatre Royal stage.