The Poor School
The Poor School was created in 1986 by Paul Caister in response to the need for a first class acting training which was financially within the reach of all, or almost all. The two-year training programme at the school is now one of the most highly regarded in the UK. 25 years of graduates have enjoyed careers in theatre, film, radio, stage and comedy; ex-students have founded their own companies (Ridiculusmus and Sturdy Beggars, most notably) and have become producers, directors, casting directors and agents.
The two year training
Acting training at the Poor School begins in the autumn and in the first year is divided into three terms of equal length, over which students undertake classes in acting, voice, movement, dance, singing, verse and text, character study and animal study. Students also rehearse a number of texts; Ibsen, Tennessee Williams, Orton, Wilde, Chekhov etc. which are performed internally to all staff and students. Contemporary scene work and Shakespeare also form core parts of the first year and are shown internally. There are no external showings in the first year.
The second year of the training begins by consolidating and developing much of the first year work in order to prepare students for the Poor School public shows and the transition into the industry as working actors. Students continue with voice, movement, dance and singing classes while preparing public showings of musical theatre and Shakespeare throughout the autumn term. These shows provide a very important bridge to the last six months of the training, known as the Public Season, which is when students perform in front of industry professionals. The Public Season begins in January with a showcase of short scenes to which agents, directors, casting directors and producers attend. It continues with a series of plays open to the public and industry professionals alike and culminates in a second evening of scenes which are again open to industry professionals only. The second evening of scenes is in June and marks the end of the training.
Entrance to the training is by audition although a number of students now take a short course in place of an audition.
The Poor School runs three short courses; the four-day course, the one-week course and the three-week summer course. The four-day courses run from Tuesdays to Fridays 10.00 am to 5.00 pm at various times throughout the year. Course numbers vary between 30 and 40 students, of all age ranges and abilities. The youngest student has been 15 and the oldest 80. The groups are always eclectic and interesting in terms of background, age and ability. Many people who undertake the course have no acting experience at all; others have sometimes already acted professionally or are interested in taking the four-day course by way of an audition process for the two-year training. All that is asked of students is that they arrive on time and awake, prepared to do a small amount of hard and focused work. They undertake classes in acting, voice, movement, singing, dancing, jazz, stage fighting and Shakespeare as well as rehearsing contemporary scenes and a musical number for a relaxed and informal performance on the last afternoon. The course is an excellent self-contained experience; many students remarking a noticeable change in confidence and ability after just four days. It also serves as a fantastic taster for the full-time training, which some students are invited to join following the four-day course. In 2010 theatre critic for The Daily Telegraph, Dominic Cavenish, attended a four-day course at the Poor School. His review can be read here.
The one-week course is essentially an out-of-hours four-day course as it takes place in the evenings from Monday to Friday and during the daytime on Saturday. The content and staff contact hours are identical, and the cost is the same. Evening hours are 6.30-10.00 pm, and there is a 10.00 am start on Saturday and a 5.00 pm finish. The first one-week course took place from September 10 to 15 2012.
The three-week summer courses are similar to the four-day course in their content; students cover a range of subjects and classes, including acting study, voice, movement, singing, dancing, jazz, stage fighting and Shakespeare as well as rehearsing contemporary scenes and a musical number for a relaxed performance at the end of the three weeks. The three-week summer courses differ from the four-day and one-week course in both schedule and rigour. Classes for the three-week summer courses are scheduled in the evenings and weekends, from 6:30 pm to 10 pm Monday to Friday and 10 am - 5 pm on Saturdays. This schedule allows enrolled students to continue working throughout the course and thus provides an experience closer to that of the full-time two-year training, which is also scheduled in the evenings and weekends. As the summer courses are three weeks, they naturally work at a slightly deeper level than the four-day and one-week courses, and there is a greater opportunity for feedback and experimentation. As with the other short courses, the summer course can also serve as a more thorough audition process for the two-year training.
All courses are extremely popular and well reviewed, and the majority of the students undertaking the two-year training now come through that channel. Short course reviews can be found here.
- Paul Caister - Director
- Alison de Burgh - Stage Fighting
- Clare Davidson - Voice
- Marcelle Davis - Movement and Dance
- Chris Dunham - Director
- Christian Fellner - Voice, Verse and Text
- Trudi Rees - Movement, Jazz, Dance and Director
- Jennifer Alice Malarky - Movement
- Sarah Frankcom - Director, Royal Exchange, Manchester
- Ricky Groves
- James Holmes - actor in the BBC sitcom Miranda
- Jenny Kendall-Tobias - British Radio Presenter (BBC Guernsey)
- Zoe Lyons - Stand-Up Comic
- Lindsay Armaou - Member of pop band B*witched
- Francis Magee
- Ryan Molloy - Jersey Boys in West End
- Lucy Russell
- Mark Wakeling - Co Founder Actors' Temple
- Jessie Wallace - EastEnders
- Conrad Westmaas
- Sasha Behar
- Al Nedjari
- Micah Balfour
- Howard Antony
- David Woods - Co-founder of Ridiculusmus
- Jon Haynes - Co-founder of Ridiculusmus
- William Beck - Casualty
- Vera Chok - theatre, screen and radio actor.
- The Poor School website
- Sarah Frankcom, Royal Exchange Credits
- Francis Magee at http://www.imdb.com/ [Internet Movie Database]
- Poor School Reviews