Curtain up on National Academy of Dramatic Art
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Curtain up on National Academy of Dramatic Art

It is almost a year since it was officially announced, more than two years since the Forum on Acting Training recommended its establishment, and more than three years since a controversy erupted in the wake of Trinity College Dublin’s decision to discontinue its degree course in acting. But now the new National Academy of Dramatic Art is ready for business. Developed by Trinity College and the Cathal Ryan Trust, and formally associated with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London, it is currently accepting applications for its first student intake, to begin in autumn 2011, with plans for a new building on Grand Canal Dock (see computer-generated image) underway, staff recruitment commencing shortly and a new brand name to display: The Lir.

The speed with which The Lir has consolidated is uncommon in academic and corporate terms: it has appointed a board (including Harry Crosbie, Michael Colgan and Danielle Ryan), its courses have been approved by Trinity College, and the three stakeholders (and their lawyers) have reached a working agreement. The academy is to have an initial five-year relationship with RADA, which will advise on staff appointments, student intake, course development and building design, maintaining regular contact with the course each semester. In a statement, Edward Kemp, the director of RADA said, “The training offered by The Lir will be of the highest level of international professional practice and will be closely linked to the ever-changing needs and directions of the industry.”

The academy will resemble the structures of professional theatres more closely than university departments. “The whole thing is modeled on a theatre company, like a mini-National Theatre,” Professor Brian Singleton, the Lir’s first Academic Director, told ITM. The academy will advertise for an Artistic Director in November, with an appointment expected in March of 2011, and further staff – expected to come from the industry - recruited around that appointment.

Following the outcry of 2007, when various industry figures decried the decision to axe Ireland’s only professional acting degree course, and the subsequent high-profile involvement of theatre professionals in Trinity College’s forum, The Lir is now placing heavy emphasis on the demands of the industry and seeking the professional sector’s input into its development. Three consultative fora are scheduled for this Friday and Saturday in Project Arts Centre, Dublin, to address technical, writing and acting course development.

Unlike the former Acting Studies (BAS) degree, The Lir’s inaugural Bachelor in Acting course will operate outside the CAO system, awarding between twelve and sixteen places solely on the basis of auditions, which are expected to be rigorous and conducted in a number of stages. “It’s almost a third longer and it’s more intensive,” Singleton says, explaining further differences between the courses. “In the final year, instead of three theatre productions, there will be six productions. There’s a much greater emphasis on acting for recorded media: film, TV and radio. In addition to that we have a lot more involvement from the industry in terms of career preparation and mentoring. There’s also a larger emphasis on dramaturgy. We’ll be appointing a dramaturg for the whole academy.”

This reflects the changing nature of professional performance, where actors are increasingly originators of theatrical work, such as BAS graduates, The Company, or Gaiety School of Acting alumni, Inis Theatre. “The old acting course model really trained people for a repertory system,” says Singleton. “That doesn’t really exist anymore. The actors left drama school and waited for the phone to ring. Now it’s a lot more about the actor’s own agency and role in the creative process.”

The new conservatory model of training also involves more continuous interaction between different strands of theatre-making: the Lir’s first playwriting Master’s course (MFA), will begin simultaneously, followed two years later by its first MFAs in directing, lighting design and set design – with all students initially sharing the same classes. The undergraduate acting degree qualifies for fee remission and the Higher Education Authority have “reweighted” its requirements: where the previous contribution towards each student’s fees was under €7,000 – which was one of the factors that led to the demise of the BAS course – the new subsidy recognizes the high contact hours and intensity of training and grants financial support equivalent to that of medical training: €9,550, although the real cost per student is estimated at €17,900. Competition for course places is expected to be high (the first applications came to TCD, hand-delivered, on the Monday morning following the initial call on Friday 17th September), and The Lir is encouraging early applications.

As for the name of the Academy, it was proposed by an image and branding consultant. “We wanted something contemporary but traditional sounding, mythological and epic,” said Singleton. “The reference is obviously to the myth of the famous children. And also to King Lear. “Neither of those stories end up happily,” Singleton reflected. “Let’s just forget about that one...”



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