Mingle with the Mentors


Richard Branson: ‘Whenever I am asked what is the missing link between a promising businessperson and a successful one, mentoring comes to mind.’

Recently I was speaking with a local composer, (himself a champion of real, industry-focussed training too), about the role of high profile supporters. Some call these people patrons, some call them advisors, some (we) call them mentors. Whatever they are called across the board, their role is surely similar? To advise, champion, support and promote the work of the organisations for which they are associated.

Let’s be clear about our scheme (which, to my knowledge makes us the only school offering this opportunity with so much commitment at present). Every one of our students will be paired up with a mentor from London’s West End, from the day they start their journey with us. Through email, telephone and in-person meet ups, our students will all have an individual from the very top of the industry to look up to for advice and support. These mentors have been through drama school, they’ve negotiated their way through the demands of starting out and they’ve made a name for themselves at the top of the industry that our students are training for.

Our mentors are no substitute for an experienced team of tutors, nor are they an alternative to high profile masterclass sessions and workshops and all of the busy technique and skills classes that go on behind the scenes. Indeed most of our mentors are also guest teachers on our course. Instead though, in their mentor role, which we’ll be doing a lot of work on before we open our doors to our first intake, they play an important part in our pastoral care offer. There are many times, not just in performing but also in life, where we seek advice from others. The more open-minded of our beings can listen to a wide range of varying opinions in order to learn, develop and grow. In setting up MAMT, I have taken a huge amount of advice from important people in my own life; not officially ‘mentors’ but certainly people I look up to and have learnt a lot from. Our industry in fact is full of such situations; why do agents often start out as juniors in a busy booking office? Why does the role of assistant director often act as a platform to develop, under the watchful eye of a more experienced director? How better to seek personal improvement than to watch people who have followed your path, and learn the skills and attitudes that they possess? 

I believe passionately in the learning that can be taken from our mentoring scheme. It is but another tool we use to equip forward-thinking Musical Theatre students with the skills required to work professionally. They are part of our support network of regular teachers, guest tutors, pastoral partners and students (yes, a true ensemble look after their own). In our mentors, we have a team of some of the most high profile performers in the country, taking time out of their busy schedule to give back to a new breed of drama school graduate. MAMT students will not only know their own skills, they will also understand the industry as a business and know when and who to turn to for help.

This brings me back to the conversation I had last week. When we hear about patrons, presidents, or whatever else they might get called, do any of us really have an understanding of what they actually DO? I’ll be the first to throw my hand up and say ‘not a clue’. I wondered if the patrons of the very large drama school institutions take an interest in every single student as an individual? I’ve recently seen one UK school who only has 1 patron: a Broadway performer who rarely visits this country. What on earth, is that doing for any of their students?

Yes, a huge West End name above the title is a fantastic endorsement of a school’s training, or ethos, or faculty, but maybe I’m greedy because I want more than to borrow someone’s name. I want mentors, not patrons, who support our students, champion our work and help to spread the word about how we are positively different to a number of other organisations. My students have heard this from me before, but Kerry Ellis, for example, is not just one of our country’s most talented performers, she is also a genuine, ambitious, forward-thinking businesswoman. She commands respect from so many people because she truly cares; not just about her own career, but about her friends’ and the future of the industry as a whole. I have been incredibly fortunate to know Kerry since her standby Elphaba days back when Wicked had just opened (can anyone remember a West End without Wicked?!). Not only has she written words of encouragement to groups that I’ve taught, she has also given me the chance to offer many opportunities to young professionals. In the last year, I’ve worked with Kerry on three occasions; firstly on her solo UK tour, then providing a choir for when she performed with West End Women and, most recently, in an eye-opening acting-through-song masterclass in London this summer. I’m delighted that Kerry has shared such opportunities with the people I train. I believe that our mentoring process will create some more of those remarkable opportunities in the future, with each and every one of our talented team.

So personally, if I were looking to compare schools and courses, I’d be sat here wondering how having a high profile figure would actually help ME to achieve my own goals? Would I ever even meet them? Would I be able to call them up and ask for some guidance?

I fear the reality is actually far from that…I imagine a yearly group Q&A session and a handshake at graduation is probably more likely what’s on offer elsewhere. We can change that; we have found a group of wonderful performers, who see a way to help drama school students and are giving back in such a meaningful way.

To hands on Patrons, and to Presidents that are actually involved in their students’ training, but most importantly, to our MAMT industry mentors: thank you.

James Williams
Midlands Academy of Musical Theatre

Midlands Academy of Musical Theatre provides an industry based Musical Theatre diploma to students aged 18+ over two years. To find out more, please visit http://www.MAMT.org.uk as we are auditioning now for September 2016 start.

Mingle with the Mentors

Find the right Drama School for you

To help us grow for our students, we recently conducted a short survey of 16-21 year olds who were looking at drama schools. We asked them to list these benefits in order of importance. What matters most to you when deciding on the right course and place?

  • Industry-based teachers: rather than “career-teachers”,  having current professional directors, MDs, voice coaches, choreographers, producers and agents supporting the permanent faculty members.
  • Venue facilities: professional standard dance studios, music rooms, changing areas, refreshments and WiFi.
  • Qualification obtained: a diploma or degree?
  • Industry mentors: having a dedicated West End performer for each student throughout the entire course. This is someone to learn from, seek advice from and provides the opportunity to develop a friendship with someone who has been through the demands of graduating and entering this industry.
  • Course length: the standard three year course or an accelerated 2 year programme to get you ready for the industry sooner? Or perhaps a 1 year intensive, offering a more basic introduction to the industry?
  • Industry exposure: As many opportunities as possible throughout the course to perform, collaborate and present the work you’ve done rather than waiting until the final showcases.
  • Living in London: or would the reduced living costs of being outside of London be important to you? Perhaps you want to be nearer home?
  • One to one singing classes each week.
  • Graduation showcase in a London theatre: do you consider this to be a high priority when selecting a drama school?
  • Master classes with big names: do workshops with people like Kerry Ellis, Julie Atherton and Elaine Paige score highly on your “wish list”?

We had a REMARKABLE response to our survey and the results helped us to shape our own priorities in developing Midlands Academy of Musical Theatre. It seems as if there is currently a shift in what people want from their training which is very exciting for us as a constantly evolving school. 

On average, the top 4 priorities came out as:

  1. Industry-based teachers
  2. Venue facilities
  3. One-to-one singing lessons
  4. Industry mentors

We were very pleased with the results, as our ethos is about offering a course that is completely grounded within the industry. For us, having regular industry-based professionals teaching on the course and industry-mentors to support and nurture our students is key to the vision of being the very best drama school.

We have also secured the move to a purpose built venue  which will offer 2 light and airy studios, including specialist dance flooring, full length mirrors and high quality sound equipment for classes and rehearsals. On site, we also have purpose built changing areas as well as a lecture theatre, physiotherapist suite, meeting/practice rooms, a delicious cafeteria and much more. Our central location is just 10 minutes from all the Birmingham train stations, meaning that we can be in London’s West End in 90 minutes.

Every student receives a 1-2-1 singing lesson during skills weeks. 

What is even better about MAMT is that we have built every single benefit above into our course. For example:

  • All students receive an Associate Diploma in Musical Theatre, awarded by Trinity College London, on successful completion of the course. Although this industry is about talent (and jobs are awarded based on auditions, not qualifications), we completely understand a student’s desire to have a nationally recognised qualification to add to their ever-growing CV. University based degrees just don’t offer enough industry-exposure and we find that those who have been through a university course still need to go on and train at a drama school afterwards. We can help you get the skills you need to work professionally faster.
  • Course length: most responses to our survey felt that 3 years was too long and that an accelerated two year programme (that is both intensive and practical) would be more beneficial. At MAMT we are strongly opposed to 1 year courses; there is simply not enough time to sufficiently develop performers to be industry-ready without rushing the training. If you consider the last term being spent preparing for showcases, that is potentially only two terms of training. Therefore, our course is an intensive and highly detailed 2 year programme.
  • Students have public performances from day one. We don’t want to hide our students away until an agent showcase at the very end; we want to embrace the opportunities available to us and give our students as many professional performing opportunities as possible. Every term will end with a public performance, to which industry professionals (include mentors, agents and casting directors) will be invited. This offers many invaluable feedback opportunities throughout the course and a chance for family and friends to see the students progress and grow.
  • We are Birmingham based but West End ready. Living in Birmingham, one of the greenest cities in the world, with over 8,000 acres of parks and open space, will save you (on average) 64% of the living costs you would incur by living in London. On top of the reduced living costs (which could save you over £5,000 a year), you will also save money on tuition by being on an accelerated two year course. How much would you save by not doing three years somewhere else? Well over £10,000 in most cases. So in total, you could save yourself over £20,000 by attending MAMT instead of a London-based school. Our teachers are of course still very active in the West End (you just have to look at our faculty page to see that), but the commute from Birmingham is so quick and easy that we can provide the very same training as being based in London. In short, we bring the West End to you, saving you time and money.
  • Our graduation showcases are always in London’s West End. You will still graduate from the course with a London showcase, providing you with the same opportunity to seek agent representation.
  • Our masterclasses are run by the absolute best. Recently we have had Kerry Ellis, Oliver Tompsett and Julie Atherton teaching for us through Musical Theatre Voices.

By training at Midlands Academy of Musical Theatre, you will be at the very heart of this industry, making connections with people at the top of the industry; the same people who may well be offering you jobs later on in your career.

To find out more about our intensive, industry-based course, please have a look at our website where you can apply for our up-coming audition days. 

James Williams
Course Director, MAMT

Find the right Drama School for you