I’ve found yet another shiny, new, full-time training alternative for those who want something intensely focused, small-scale enough to be personalised and taught by current working professionals in the West End and/or Broadway - as opposed to what some critics allege is on offer in some of the tried-and-tested drama schools.
American Musical Theatre Academy of London has been running 12-week Sunday courses for over -16s since 2008 using studio space at Sadler’s Wells.
Now AMTA has moved into spacious studios near Liverpool Street Station and its one-year full-time training course starts in September. AMTA’s founder is the dynamic, fast talking Kenneth Avery-Clark, Principal, Head of Singing and Creative Director. His course aims to be based on the American idea that you have to project yourself and that there are no opportunities in this industry for shrinking violets or people who can’t or won’t learn to act through their shyness.
Avery Clark, who came originally from Canada, is currently appearing in the West End production of Sweet Charity at Theatre Royal, Haymarket. - which is why I am interviewing him in the theatre’s empty stalls at lunch time.
He has 23 years experience in Musical Theatre and has shared the stage with Nathan Lane, Lee Evans, Elaine Paige, Elton John, Liza Minnelli, Cliff Richard, Girls Aloud, and Olivia Newton-John among others. He has appeared in the West End productions of The Drowsy Chaperone, The Producers, Ragtime and 125th Street and toured extensively in the US and Canada.
In addition Avery-Clark is a writer of both plays and music and is one of London’s leading vocal coaches, teaching privately as well as one day a week, on a BTEC course at Plumstead Manor School in South London.
“We insist on tutors, like me, who have ‘done it’ and are still ‘doing it’ because the students need to learn more than technique. They need to be helped to hone the right skills and attitude to work and I believe that it’s only current practitioners who can do that,” he says.
Of course, it isn’t the first time I’ve heard this line from start-up drama schools and I know it is anathema to some of the mainstream drama schools and their alumni. The last time I mentioned it, we broke the record for comments on this blog - so over to you when I’ve finished.
Avery-Clark is working with fellow Canadian Christie Miller, AMTA’s Managing Director and a professional life coach. His Head of Acting is Mark Goldthorp who will soon be on stage at Regent’s Park in Stephen Sondheim’s musical hit Into The Woods after having spent the past few years playing Nicky/Treckie in Avenue Q in the West End.
Lisa Donmall, who has appeared in several West End musicals including The Rat Pack, The Producers, Crazy for You, Sweet Charity, Cats, Anything Goes, My Fair Lady and Chicago is AMTA’s Head of Dance. Guest tutors include Will Barratt, currently appearing in Phantom of the Opera, and Alex Forster who spent three years in We Will Rock You and has toured Europe extensively as a principal dancer.
AMTA is looking for 20 students for its new course and is charging £9,000 per year which includes a ten-day trip to New York for training on Broadway. This undercuts much of the competition but, of course, because this is new and unaccredited, there is no entitlement to loans or grants and no scholarships. ‘But we shall be offering a payment plan’ says Avery-Clark who will be auditioning to fill places until August.
‘Training will be intensive with singing, dancing and acting every day with lots of one-to-one work,’ says Avery-Clark. ‘I aim to teach students that to succeed in the West End these days you have to be highly proficient at everything because musical theatre casts are typically much smaller than they used to be. It’s no good being “just” a dancer or singer. And they need to understand that every single person on stage could actually play almost any part.’ That, he asserts, requires a very specific training which ensures that students learn to manage themselves in every sense. It requires proactivity and confidence.
This week’s issue of The Stage has a 12-page supplement devoted to musical theatre training. See our In the Paper blog for more details. Also, we have a selection of musical theatre course listings available online.