Agent for Change – Bethany Woods work experience at the New Wolsey Theatre

This (2016) is the New Wolsey Theatres second year of offering a ‘Year 10’ work experience placement supported by Agent for Change, Amy Nettleton. It was felt strongly that the placement should be open to a young person with an interest in theatre with a disability. After research and conversations with schools; students with physical, sensory and/or learning difficulties were finding it far more challenging than their peers to get a placement that was in their field of interest. Students often ended up doing office work at their schools, which I am sure you can imagine is the last thing you want to do as a 15 year old when you have just been told you can go out into the community and get away from school for a week!

This year the New Wolsey welcomed Beth Woods from a local high school to spend a week experiencing as many aspects of the theatre as possible as well as interviewing members of the staff.

We hope you enjoy Beth’s blog posts:

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Work Experience at the New Wolsey Theatre…

Day one of work experience and surprisingly, I was not nervous at all, just very excited.  I met up with Amy Nettleton, an Agent for Change at the Wolsey Theatre and she showed me my desk and introduced me to the other members of staff. Thankfully, everyone was really friendly and I quickly felt settled in.

My first job was to look at the New Wolsey website, to find out about Agent for Change and the Agents roles on this website.

After lunch break, we had a trip into town to Suffolk Mind, to complete a ‘Mental Health Awareness’ training course.  The aim of the course was to improve our awareness of mental health illnesses.  I learnt a lot because mental health was not something I knew much about.  We covered topics such as stress and anxiety, phobias and panic attacks, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), schizophrenia and psychosis. http://www.mind.org.uk/

Interview with Jamie Beddard, Agent for Change – Creative

Jamie is an actor and director, living in London with his wife and two children.  He loves Suffolk and likes to visit his mum in Aldeburgh and watch ITFC, as he is a mad Town supporter.  Jamie works at the New Wolsey Theatre for five days a month and loves it!  At the New Wolsey, he is an Agent for Change.  His role is to encourage disabled artists work with the New Wolsey Theatre.

So my question was, “How did Jamie get into acting and the theatre?”  When Jamie was young, there were very few disabled actors.  Thankfully this is now very different.  In 1991, when Jamie was 22 years old, the BBC contacted Jamie because they were keen to recruit a disabled actor.  Thankfully, he was offered the job and he has been enjoying acting ever since.

Jamie said, “I got into acting by accident.  Thirty years later, I am still at it!”

I was interested to find out what in particular Jamie loved about being an actor.  For Jamie, it is the collaborating with people that gives him a real buzz.  “I love the random nature in the arts, as you never know where you are going next.”

At the moment, Jamie is working for the National Theatre, London, on a production called ‘Three Penny Opera,’ which runs from August to October. 

I was curious to find out what challenges Jamie has to encounter as a disabled actor.  Jamie was really positive and said that he just gets on with life, as it is normal to him.  When he was younger, he used to get angry, but now realises that anger just uses up too much energy.  The only thing that annoys him now is getting older!

Jamie’s passion for the theatre is infectious and he has encouraged me to visit the Wolsey as much as I can, as he explained that it gives you a good view of the world.

Task and meeting people…

A later start to the day, as I am ushering this evening’s performance of “9 to 5.”  Should be fun!

Firstly, I brainstormed some ideas for a 50 minute play on disability and difference, to show to Year 5 and 6 pupils during spring 2017.  This performance had to be for two actors only, but I came up with some good ideas to get around this, by being clever with costumes.  For example, one actor could have half her body as one character and half her body as another character.  My ideas were definitely flowing this afternoon and very soon I had a full spider diagram of ideas.  The plan is that I share my ideas with another work experience student, who is working at the New Wolsey Studio, on Friday morning.  She has been working on the task all week and so it will be interesting to see what topic she chose and what ideas she came up with.

I was then introduced to two very important people at the New Wolsey – David, Head of Operations and Sarah Holmes Chief Executive: the “Big Boss.”  David is in charge of the overall show budgets and looks at how much it will cost to put on a production and discuss who will pay for what parts of the production. They also talked about Sarah’s partner who is Artistic director, Pete, who writes lots of productions, including the annual New Wolsey pantomime. 

Interview with Ellen, Theatre Apprentice

Ellen had always loved the theatre, but unfortunately suffered with awful stage fright, so a job behind the scenes of the theatre was perfect.

On a day to day basis, Ellen communicates with Actors and Companies about their contracts, so that everyone gets paid for their hard work.  Dealing with daily emails is always fun, as there is often an element of mystery.

Working in an open plan office has really suited Ellen, as she thinks there is a great, caring atmosphere and it makes her enjoy coming to work.  I can see where she is coming from, as it has been friendly and welcoming.

 

Interview with David Philips, Head of Production

David Philips, AKA “Mr P”, started working full time in the theatre at the age of 18 and has worked his way up through different roles to become Head of Production.  In 2009, David went freelance and during this time he visited the New Wolsey.  When the opportunity arose to work as Head of Production, he leapt at the chance.

Mr P’s role is to get all shows on to the stage, on time, on budget and with “no fights” (usually over money!) Many hours are spent negotiating with people, so that the show happens at the right cost.  It can be a very stressful job.

For Mr P, the best part of the job is when the audience show their appreciation for the first night of a show.  When the audience applause, it is not just for the actors on stage, it is for the efforts of people off the stage too.  Putting on a show is pure enjoyment and “much better than a proper job!”

Mr P soon realised that to work in theatre would require confidence, maybe something he was lacking as a child.  Constantly meeting new people, you have to be able to make friends quickly and overcome your fears, so that you come across as confident and do the job well.  “Sometimes it can be quite daunting meeting famous people such as Trevor Nunn, but it is worth it!”

Working at the New Wolsey Studio…

It’s a visit to the New Wolsey Studio, to meet up with Marcus and Sophie, the other work experience student. Marcus is the Creative Learning Manager, responsible for coordinating the education team. He works with children, young adults and people in the community.

The Creative Learning Department run 9 youth theatre groups and see over 200 pupils every week. Auditions are held in January each year and productions are put on at the end of each year for family and friends to see.  Two of the groups are “Youth Theatre Squared 1 and 2” which are suitable for those with moderate to severe physical and learning disabilities.

Marcus showed me the model boxes that are made for each set.  They are built to scale and are really cleverly designed.  I would love to make one!

Some Young Company members are selected to become Young Associates and they then get to perform at events such as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. What a fantastic opportunity!

A lot of work is done with schools and tours of the New Wolsey and meeting play directors can be organised. Productions are also taken into primary and secondary schools. Year 9 and 10’s can experience “Frequently Asked Questions,” which is a short play written from the point of view of teenagers.  There has been lots of positive feedback from pupils. Recently, new graduates have been recruited to take part in the play, with the aim of recruiting 50% of the cast with a disability.

Sophie, a member of the Youth Theatre, has also been on work experience this week. We discussed our ideas with Marcus for a primary school play, based on difference. Sophie focused on a cultural theme and had the idea of two characters touring the world, with the open-minded character teaching the close minded one. I explained my disability idea.  Who knows, maybe Sophie or I will be famous play writes one day!

My Work Experience Week Overall

I have really enjoyed my week of work experience with the New Wolsey Theatre.  It has made me realise how much work people do behind the scenes and not just the cast of the shows.  My four favourite parts were interviewing Jamie Beddard, a really inspirational man, watching the “Zimmer of Hope” rehearsal, ushering and thinking of ideas for a play about disability.

DSCF5191 A Zimmer of Hope, 2016

If I could, I would like the chance to learn how to make a model box and then get to make one myself.  Another thing I would like to learn how to do, is make an e-flyer.This placement has inspired me to go and see more shows.   I would definitely recommend a theatre placement to other students, as it’s fun and there is always things for you to do.

 

The New Wolsey were really pleased to offer this placement to Beth and believe it is important to support young people with disabilities into work at the earliest possible stage. We plan to continue this placement as well as offering other opportunities to young people in the theatre throughout the year.

Thanks to Beth for sharing her thoughts, hard work and time with us.