I’m at Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts which nestles scenically on the hillside beneath the grandiloquent Anglican Cathedral. Mark Featherstone-Witty, founder principal, has invited me and is treating me like an honoured guest. I’m here because I am sometimes accused (with some justification) of sidelining the excellent training institutions well outside London in favour of the handy ones in the south-east.
So I have hopped on a train from Euston (having first commuted into St Pancras from Kent and strolled along Euston Road) and reached lovely Liverpool in just over two hours. Not so remote after all. And I’m delighted to be here.
LIPA was opened in 1995/6, famously funded largely by Paul McCartney who desperately wanted to save the derelict building - the grammar school he and George Harrison had attended. Eventually McCartney met Featherstone-Witty, George Martin did a lot of introducing and LIPA was gradually born. It is now, although that wasn’t quite the original intention, the only completely new-from-scratch higher education institution founded in nearly a century. Quite an achievement and clearly appreciated by its enthusiastic students.
On my tour of the building I meet impressive third year design students working in a huge workshop on a Sweeny Todd set. Another group is busy with sound work on the stage of the main auditorium, once a rounded school assembly hall and now - with nice wrought iron on the balcony - it reminds me of a mini Albert Hall. Elsewhere larger groups are concentrating deeply in dance classes and there are busy music classes in the several glass walled studios I am taken past.
The building is beautiful. Features from the old building have been retained where practicable and appropriate. A magnificent pair of external wrought iron gates is now a prominent internal item. Some of the old honours boards are there and an original playground area is now a lofty, glass roofed courtyard. And all this is imaginatively decorated in soft amber, ochre and dusky pinks - colours borrowed from a Fauvist painting which Featherstone-Witty is fond of.
The curriculum is pretty impressive too with its emphasis on generic life, business and contextual skills alongside the nitty-gritty of learning how to perform. And I loved the warm, friendly atmosphere with Featherstone-Witty evidently enjoying a fine rapport with almost everyone on the premises. No wonder so many students - such as ‘fresher’ Louisa Bennett who communicates with me via Twitter - fall in love with the place almost as soon as they walk though the door.
My visit to Liverpool was a good decision. This blog is just initial impressions. I shall be writing more about LIPA soon.