When I interviewed Christie Miller and Kenneth Avery-Clark last year, the American Musical Theatre Academy was still at the planning stage. Meeting Miller, AMTA principal, last week for an update I find that 17 students are now over half way through the one-year, full-time course and have just returned from a successful training trip to New York which is part of the package.
Based in studios in Shoreditch, AMTA offers a one-year course in musical theatre. “We neither market it nor see it as a foundation course,” says Miller. “It is meant to take you straight out to work and most of our students, the eldest of whom is 26, have already done higher education at university or specialist training institutions. We find many of them are very strong in dance but need to top up acting and singing skills, for example.”
Miller and AMTA creative director, Avery-Clark (an actor who has just come out of Sweet Charity), who both come from Canada, take the view that Britain is rightly famed for its drama training but that Musical Theatre is an American invention. “That’s why we take the students to Broadway for two weeks and cost that in with the fees as an integral part of the training,” says Miller.
While in New York, the group trained in workshops led by local American professionals each day from 10.00 to 2.00 pm, then enjoyed some free time to explore the city before seeing a Broadway show in the evening. ‘They were given lots of punchy audition advice and told that rather than taking bar or call centre work when jobs aren’t forthcoming they should continuously showcase their own talents by busking, setting up their own companies and generally get themselves noticed by doing what they’re good at,’ recalls Miller, who was delighted with the way the trip went, even down to student attitude and behaviour.
The course ends in July and AMTA is already bringing in directors and others who might identify someone they’d like to see again. “We prefer that way of working to the traditional showcase,” Miller says.
AMTA also offers other courses, including summer schools, and is planning to offer some short free workshops for would-be performers needing help with self-presentation.
Meanwhile auditions for the 2011/12 one-year course are underway and Miller is delighted that enquiries are coming in from all over the developed world - including from Bermuda, Canada, Greece and a surprising number from Mexico.
Last year 19 students began the course. Two have dropped out - one for personal reasons and financial problems led to the other postponing the course for a year. Ten applicants were rejected.
“The way things are going it looks as if we shall double those numbers in our second year,” says Miller, “Although part of our strength is that we’re small and we are certainly never going to be a gigantic machine.”