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Taking rehearsals into a community

Rehearsing ANNA at Mulberry University Technical College, East London to inform communities linked to Mulberry UTC about the range and viability of careers in theatre

Mulberry UTC is a new University Technical College in Bow, East London, specialising in health and social care and performing and production arts. The National Theatre is an Industry Partner of the UTC. The local community know about the career paths available in health and social care, but they are far less aware of the creative sector as a viable employment prospect. Mulberry UTC has been looking for ways they can use their newly built theatre to raise awareness of the types of careers available in the creative arts sector. This would hopefully encourage applicants to that strand of the UTC. Due to the importance of its sound design, ANNA needed to be rehearsed on the full set, with the sound being included from the start of rehearsals. No rehearsal space was available at the National Theatre which would enable this. It was therefore agreed that the NT would rehearse ANNA in Mulberry’s theatre. In addition to rehearsing on site at Mulberry, the NT also delivered six workshops to UTC students. The first workshop – ‘What are We Doing Here?’ – was an introduction to why the NT was rehearsing in their building and what we would be doing in the rehearsal room. The subsequent workshops focused on specific areas of backstage work and the different types of jobs available for people in those areas. The ANNA Sound Designers delivered a workshop on Foley sound and the production’s Director hosted a Q&A about directing. Workshops delivered by NT staff included a costume workshop, and a wigs and blood workshop, which looked at how make-up need not only be about beauty and weddings. The NT’s Head of Company Management and Director of Technical and Production also attended an open evening and spoke to parents and prospective students.

Carol Lingwood, NT Head of Costume, leading a costume workshop with students from Mulberry UTC
Photo Ellie Kurttz

How many project participants were there?

Each workshop was delivered to 15–20 students of Mulberry. Students also attended a run through of the show. Once the show opened at the NT, some students and teachers also came to a performance in the Dorfman Theatre.

What resources did you require to deliver this project? 

Time was the biggest resource deployed, mostly given to planning the whole project and to the delivery of the workshops. For the rehearsal room: risk assessments were developed, including safeguarding risk assessments, which enabled NT staff and actors to be on a school site. Control measures included enhanced DBS certification for core staff and restricting some areas of the school to rehearsal personnel only. Non-DBS checked staff were briefed about the control measures, including strict signing-in procedures and a buddy system, that meant they could attend rehearsals, costume fittings and production meetings only when accompanied by DBS certificated staff. Colour-coded lanyards were used so that DBS certificated staff were easily identifiable. For the workshops: the biggest resources were people’s time and effort, plus relevant kit, such as sound equipment, blood bags and costumes to display.

What challenges did you face, and how did you overcome them?

The biggest challenge was all the safeguarding work that needed to be done beforehand. We also needed to find the balance between maintaining an efficient and productive rehearsal room, whilst enabling the rest of the project to happen. At the start of the project, there was great enthusiasm from everyone involved, but as the realities of the rehearsal process started to bite, people needed to be reminded that they had signed up to the whole package, and why it was important that we fulfilled our commitments.

What impact has the project had? How could it bring about long term change?

Mulberry UTC staff said: The impact of having the National Theatre rehearsing here was extremely positive. Having a professional theatre company rehearsing here created a buzz around the building and the students were really intrigued by what was going on. In terms of our student recruitment it had a very positive impact. Several of our current year 12 students came to the open evening when the NT was in residence and cited the NT being so closely connected to the school as a reason for applying.

Here are some quotes from the students:

We got to know about jobs that we wouldn’t normally hear or know about, like all the people who make the costumes, the work of the wardrobe teams and the people who dye fabrics.

It was interesting to see the designs on the mood boards and how they were translated into the final pieces.

It was interesting to listen to the Head of Costume and how she got to be in that job and it made me think that there isn’t a typical route into working in theatre. It showed us that we have lots of options.

It was interesting and fun – we were able to apply what we learned about blood effects on stage to our sci-fi unit in Media Studies.

What advice would you give to others wanting to embark on a similar project?

In the planning stages of a project like this, there must be open discussions involving all stakeholders, where people are free to say what they really think, so that they can be reassured, or genuine solutions found to their issues. The planning at all stages needs to be meticulous and detailed, with the safeguarding of the young people as a priority. It’s important that the entire production team, including the creative team and the actors, trust in the value of the project – their eagerness to participate is vital to its success. Everyone must understand and be committed to the idea that this is a single package: rehearsal plus workshops, not one or the other.

Initiative by: National Theatre

For more information, please contact Kath Geraghty on 

Status: Completed

Type: New pathways Reaching out

Date added: 17 February 2020

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