Wendy Gadian explains why finding the right funder was key to helping the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama support emerging musical directors.

Photo of cast of musical theatre
The cast of The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Patrick Baldwin

The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama’s (Central) relationship with the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation (ALWF) started in 2011, when we were awarded an ALWF scholarship for a student on the undergraduate Acting Musical Theatre course. The undergraduate training programming for the course was still relatively new at that stage, with the first graduates receiving their degrees in 2008. Through this initial involvement, and with ALWF’s David Grindrod as consultant for scholarships, ALWF has continued to be supportive of our training and students. Indeed, its mission statement states: “The ALW Foundation believes that in order to maintain vibrancy in the arts, it is critical that the new generation of potential artists are nurtured and encouraged. Recognising that these are difficult economic times to get a start in artistic life, the trustees are prioritising projects that enable people to develop their abilities and careers.”

I had joined Central in 2007 to lead the course after working as a freelance musical director. I was aware that there were few routes into the profession for a young musician hoping to work as a musical director in the theatre. Indeed, at the beginning of my career I had written to the director of a regional theatre hoping to gain advice only to be humiliated and told not to bother. It certainly wasn’t encouragement.

We have also taken up opportunities wherever possible to involve students and the associate musical director in shared projects with the Really Useful Group

Bethany McDonald Shepherd was newly in post as our Head of Trusts and Foundations, and we had many discussions reflecting on our background in the industry. From these discussions a germ of an idea developed to create a part-time, one-year post for a newly graduated musical director. The post would provide a next-stop opportunity to work alongside our staff and undergraduate students, and would allow them to enhance their skills while having access to our facilities and breadth of professional and industry contacts. Thus, we would be supporting, encouraging, nurturing and developing someone in the early stages of their career. This would in turn be hugely beneficial to the course by providing a resident musical director to assist me, as well as a range of visiting musical directors, to work with our students on a daily basis. Together, Bethany and I approached David Grindrod with this proposal and he encouraged us to make an application. We were thrilled when ALWF generously agreed to fund a significant portion of the salary. It was now our responsibility to find the right candidate.

In October 2013 Ben Holder became our first ALWF associate musical director. In an interview for the ALWF website, this is some of what Ben had to say: “The opportunities for me to develop as a pianist and musical director have been numerous and far-reaching. My playing in specific styles, and with specific ‘feels’ has improved immeasurably – through a combination of listening to others and practising efficiently and in detail. As a musical director I emerged from Central with the confidence to be flexible and creative in the rehearsal room, with a firm understanding of how work is created and rehearsed in a professional environment, and a strong grasp of the musical, organisational and interpersonal skills required. The post provided an opportunity to observe, understand and contribute to a learning environment ‘bolted’ on to the theatre industry.” ALWF has continued to generously support this initiative, with Zach Flis completing the post in the summer and Adam Gerber just taking up his position for the 2015/16 academic year.

In the words of Andrew Lloyd Webber: “I have always been a passionate supporter of young talent. It is crucial that proper training is available for the performers and artists of the future and it fills me with great joy that my foundation can help in this way.”

It is thanks to the generosity of ALWF and the lessons learned as we embark on our third year of the programme that we have achieved support for the post. These lessons have been to consistently engage in clear communication with the foundation and continuously appraise the progress and bespoke development of the beneficiaries of the post. We have also taken up opportunities wherever possible to involve students and the associate musical director in shared projects with the Really Useful Group, thus retaining close relationships and links with the industry and providing valuable experience to all involved.

Ultimately, though, it is through our shared goals and commitment to nurture and encourage the next generation of performers and practitioners that we have been able to continue offering this valuable opportunity.

Wendy Gadian is Principal Lecturer and Course Leader: Acting - Musical Theatre at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.

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