Bristol Old Vic has just announced a new award: The Patrons’ Prize. It will be an annual prize awarded to two outstanding BOVTS graduate actors. Invited to join the Bristol Old Vic company for a six month contract, these actors will be guaranteed the experience of working in a professional theatre at the very beginning of their careers.
The Patrons’ Prize is meant, a spokesperson for the two organisations tells me, “to mark the re-igniting of an historic relationship between the two Bristol organisations.” Until the late 1980s, many students would be employed by Bristol Old Vic after graduating as a natural progression of their training. Previous Theatre School alumni who began their professional careers at Bristol Old Vic include Daniel Day-Lewis, Jeremy Irons, Tim Pigott-Smith, Samantha Bond and Amanda Redman.
In the 1980s, this tradition was continued by the Chesterton Award which offered two contracts per year to Theatre School graduates. Recipients included Pippa Haywood, Louise Plowright and Olivier Award-winner Adrian Scarborough. But the award collapsed for lack of funds.
Speaking at the press night of the Theatre School’s graduate production, The Good Soul of Szechuan, artistic director Tom Morris and Theatre School principal Paul Rummer announced that the first recipients of the prize are Isaac Stanmore and Emily May Smith.
Stanmore and Smith will now appear in the opening production of the season, Wild Oats, as well as the devised satire, Does My Society Look Big in This? and the Christmas show, Peter Pan.
This prize is being presented to the industry as “just the beginning of a much wider collaboration between the school and the theatre” and comes at a time when major figures across the industry, from RSC Director Michael Boyd, to RADA Director Edward Kemp seem to be reassessing the relationship between theatres and drama schools.
“This is a really important step towards re-integrating the profession with training. I hugely applaud the Bristol Old Vic’s collective initiative in getting this underway, and I hope it encourages other theatres and theatre schools to follow Bristol’s lead and seek out similar collaborations,” was Edward Kemp’s comment, for example.
Morris and Rummer celebrated the new partnership in a joint statement which shows that they really mean business and this is not just about contracts for two actors:
“We will be collaborating more closely on productions and co-productions, inviting our directors to explore staging ideas and developing scripts in student workshops, evolving elements of the curriculum in relation to the practice we are discovering in the shows we make, creating work placements for students in every discipline and looking to recruit generations of graduates into every part of our organisation. The opportunity for gifted graduates to develop their professional practice within our theatre seems to make perfect sense for both the theatre and the school.”
They continued: “Of course, this is nothing new. We are simply rediscovering the system within which drama schools were invented. Bristol Old Vic Theatre School began as a fully integrated department of the Bristol Old Vic Theatre Company in 1946, just as RADA was created as an integral part of Herbert Beerbohm Tree’s company at His Majesty’s Theatre in 1904. But we detect that a tide is turning as other theatres and drama schools start to reconsider the value of this integrated model.”
So if the original Chesterton award ran out of money, where is the support coming from now, in these cash-strapped times? Start-up funding for the scheme is provided by the joint Patrons of Bristol Old Vic Theatre and School, I gather. But they need more. And fundraising is underway. If you feel inclined to put your hand in your pocket, contact: email@example.com.
Seems an encouraging development to me.