Category Archive • Training
November 28, 2004
Actor schools versus regular schools

The Telegraph reports on an interesting, and if you are the worrying sort (as I am basically not), :worrying report about the rise and rise of stage schools:

Some of the most famous actors and actresses in Britain are warning parents not to send their children to stage school because they say that many provide poor training and exploit pupils commercially.

The actors, including Richard Griffiths, Samantha Bond, Julian Glover, Paul McGann and Sam West, say that even children desperate to act would do better to complete a conventional education first.

The reason, they say, is that some stage schools are more concerned with making money than with teaching.

The actors' concern, which is shared by the National Council for Drama Training, has been prompted by a sharp increase in the number of full- and part-time drama schools catering for children, some as young as four.

An obsession with fame and popular culture generated by television programmes such as Big Brother and Pop Idol has been cited as one reason for the increase in the number of courses, and some schools have their own theatrical agencies. The theatrical directory Contacts 2005 lists hundreds of full- or part-time children's courses at fees of up to £7,000 a year.

Sam West, who starred in Howard's End and the BBC's Cambridge Spies series, said that many schools were little more than "glorified modelling agencies" which, at best, were interested only in children who would look good on television and could make it as presenters.

I wonder. Isn't the underlying truth here that almost nobody, statistically speaking, makes it as a successful actor, so no matter what you do to become an actor it will probably fail, and the more people try this, the more true this will be.

So the big question becomes, is actor training a worse education than "conventional education", and I'm not persauded that it's any worse. We are constantly bombarded nowadays with the claim that our economy is becoming less about making things and more about "service", and that's because it's presumably true. And is not "service" a lot to do with presenting yourself to others – audiences you might say – in whatever way will be most appreciated. Trade after trade nowadays, it is constantly said, is "all about presentation".

I reckon all those little failed actors might turn out to be just as useful as all the failed Sam Wests who now roam the earth, with their heads full of drama texts and just bursting to write essays about everything, of a sort that only other essay writers want to read, and not many of them because they are too busy writing their own essays?

I also think that there is a lot to be said in favour of children being exploited commercially much more than they are now. It's called work, and I think children become insufferable little drones if they do not do any of this. But, if they do do work, they ought to be paid, i.e. "exploited".

For many children, might actor schooling not be just a way to avoid the grind of regular education and to do something fun instead? This Telegraph report certainly suggests that there is great enthusiasm for these places. Also, it is probably better exercise, something which conventional education has been doing huge damage to in recent years.

More generally, I wonder what impact all these actor schools will have upon the wider culture. (Think about the impact that art colleges have had, for example on pop music. These are similarly useless places on the face of it.) What sort of things does actor training prepare you to do, assuming what you do will not be doing much in the way of normal acting in theatres, films, etc.? In the future, there will surely be entire new industries as yet undreamed of, that will make use of all these ever more widely dispersed drama skills.

For instance, what happens to global culture when it becomes as easy to converse on television, so to speak, as it now is to converse over the phone? Actor training will be quite a good preparation for that. As more and more of everyday life becomes like a performance, actor school alumni may actually find themselves at a competitive advantage.

Perhaps all these actors will fan out across the globe and become English as a Foreign Language teachers. Quite good ones, I mean. Teaching Indians and Chinese how to to TV telephoning to the white Anglosphere.

Just a few thoughts, from a useless essayist.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:22 PM
Category: RelevanceTraining
November 11, 2004
There be gold in them thar training schemes I tell ye!

This story reminded me that a century ago, one of the greatest criminal minds of the time was Professor Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes' great antagonist.

A criminal gang of professionals and academics led by a Sicilian professor defrauded the European Union of millions of pounds in a fake youth training programme, Italian police claimed yesterday after a string of dawn raids across the country.

Among those arrested was the ring's alleged mastermind, Prof Salvatore Messina, 51, a Sicilian academic with the Université Paris 13 in France, who also lectures at the University of Palermo.

So what subject did Professor Messina … profess? Ideally, he would be some kind of (im)moral philosopher, of the sort for whom crime is merely the revolutionary impulse of a repressed class, in this case the professor class, striking back against late capitalist hegemony. Nothing so elevated, I'm afraid.

Prof Messina is president of the Permanent Observatory for Tourism in the Mediterranean (OPTM), and edits a quarterly entitled Sicilia, L'isola del Tesoro, (Sicily, the Treasure Island) which the OPTM publishes. The other six arrested were all described as being in Prof Messina's entourage, including a former assistant in Sicily's regional department for professional training.

Treasure Island! No doubt this magazine title was one of the clues that told the Italian police that they were onto something.

As higher education becomes bigger and bigger business, we can expect more stories like this, I fear. My hearties.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:36 AM
Category: Training
October 05, 2004
Linda Eden-Ellis says that the New York Film Academy is as good as it says it is

NYFAsmall.jpgIn accordance with my ongoing gratuitous picture policy, I featured a New York Film Academy poster, back in June. They have an offshoot in London, asking:

Are they as good as they claim to be at their website?

. . . i.e. as they claim here.

Someone called Linda Eden-Ellis has commented with an answer:

Yes, they are. The courses are intensive, students are kept very very busy every day and you have to keep up and stay awake - don't go for a rest! You get taught by people from the industry who have invariably done the job commercially – not just academics. The amount of advice, encouragement and motivation students receive on these courses is worth the financial outlay – plus the invaluable thing of networking – you make lots of contacts within the NYFA – people contracted in from industry to teach and mentor and other people on the courses already doing small film projects of their own who might invite you to work with them – if you are any good of course!

Comments, no matter how interesting, on postings from way back are unlikely to be noticed by anyone but me, unless I copy-and-paste them as new postings. Hence this new posting. With the gratuitous photo. Again. But smaller.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:49 PM
Category: Training
July 17, 2004
Plumbing studies

Interesting BBC report about people queueing up to become plumbers. They were inundated not to say flooded with applicants, ho ho I think the last paragraph is the best:

Earlier this year Birmingham University biologist Karl Gensberg left academic life to retrain as a gas fitter, saying he hoped to double his £23,000 annual salary.

Gratuitous picture of my stupid doesn't-work shower:

Shower.jpg

How long before they start having university plumbing degrees (feminist perspectives on piping, U-bends – a structuralist analysis, plumbing theory, blah blah), which teach you nothing about how to actually plumb, but which you have to have before they let you start doing it and learning it? This will be announced as the solution to the British plumbing problem, but it will just make it ten times worse.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:26 PM
Category: Higher educationTraining
June 19, 2004
New York Film Academy in London

Spotted in the London Underground the other day, another gratuitous picture opportunity.

nyfa.jpg

For this.

This seems to be a trend now. Global education brands I mean. Now that communication from one part of the world to another is easy and instantaneous, it is much easier to run multinational enterprises. You don't face costs of the sort that only the British or the Roman Empires, or IBM, can handle. Anyone can now do international, certainly a prestigious film school.

How long has NYFA been active in London? It says "Our 12th year". Does that mean NYFA has been in London twelve years. Guess so, but could well be wrong.

Are they as good as they claim to be at their website?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 06:12 PM
Category: Training
May 25, 2004
Training to be a Carluccio's waitress

I met up for coffee, salad and chat on Sunday with my friend Elena. Elena has a quite good law degree, and has been job hunting, which was becoming pretty dispiriting on account of her fearing to be imprisoned in an office. But now it looks as if she has found a job with a real future. It seems that she may be about to become a waitress.

Carluccios.gifLet me explain. She has already started doing the training to become a waitress for Carluccio's, a chain of shops and "caffés" (I'm guessing that this is Italian for "café"), started in Covent Garden, London, by Antonio and Priscilla Carluccio in 1991.

Elena has only been doing the training for a few days, but was already full of praise for the whole experience. Did you know that there are fourteen separate processes involved in serving someone in a Carluccio's Caffé? Apparently so. She told me what many of these processes were, but I realise that I have forgotten. But I can tell you that - if my scribbled notes of our conversation are to be depended upon - Carluccio's has 7 business objectives and 2 philosophies. Also, trainees can read The Book, whatever exactly that is.

If you click on People at the Carluccio's site, you find this:

Carluccio's is a fast-growing, exciting restaurant and food business. We are serious about real Italian food and serious about training. The most important thing for us however, is finding the right people. We are looking for enthusiastic, hard working people with a passion for Italian food who thrive on working in a busy environment.

I get the very strong feeling that in Elena they have found just such a person. It wasn't so much the details of what she said as the obvious warmth of her response to the people she had met and the trouble they were taking to prepare her for her responsibilities.

You might say: but waitressing is a dead end job. Not, I believe, waitressing for Carluccio's, if you are as enthusiastic about waitressing for Carluccio's as Elena is. Nor are all those "rational" jobs, jobs "with a good future", actually such rational jobs with such a future if you hate doing them, clock watch until you leave the building each day, and them want to forget all about them.

CarluccioTraining.jpgI urged Elena to take the job, for the simple reason that she seemed to eager to take it. She has always been interested in the nuances of food – what's healthy what's not etc. She cares a lot about aesthetics, and she approves strongly of the aesthetics of the Carluccio's places she has seen. Carluccio's sounds like an impressive operation, that she would learn a lot by working for, with all manner of avenues for advancement. (That law degree might yet come in handy.) The Carluccio's training schemes are very highly regarded, and have won many awards, so Elena said. Simply to have done such training will itself be to have acquired knowledge well worth having, applicable in many other endeavours - knowledge of Italian food, and, perhaps even more significantly, knowledge about how to train people.

We believe in developing people to the very best of their ability. Our approach is to coach everyone to acquire an exceptional knowledge of Italy and Italian food.

Our staff training is thorough and challenging, sometimes tough, but a lot of fun! Antonio and Priscilla enjoy being involved in many aspects of training and imparting their knowledge of Italy and Italian food.

The future of the developed economies is partly computers and automation and clever stuff like that. Yes. But it is also in things like Carluccio's, where the organisation and discipline and preparation traditionally only associated with things like motor car manufacturing is brought to bear on the (actually rather complicated – if you think about it as thoroughly as the Carluccios have thought about it) process of making people feel happy and welcomed and content when they visit a caffé. As well as all those computers, the future consists of people like Antonio and Priscilla Carluccio, and in due course people like Elena, telling the computer geniuses exactly what to do with their computers.

Alright, Carluccio's wouldn't suit me, and probably not you either. But that is not my point. My point is that it sounds as if it will suit my friend Elena very well.

In general, I am impressed by the speed with which a good training scheme tells everyone involved, employer and employees, whether they are going to get along and do for each other what each wants. (Nothing is more grating and dispiriting than a "company philosophy" which you do not personally care for, or which you regard as all very well in theory but not actually being followed.) Elena has, as I say, only been doing her training for a few days, yet already she seems to have absorbed an enormous amount of information. More fundamentally, she has quickly learned that Carluccio's is a world in which she is likely to feel at home, among people whose approach to life and whose "philosophy" is in tune with hers.

Working for Carluccio's will also leave time for Elena to pursue other interests, such as writing (perhaps as a freelance for magazines, and perhaps even as some kind of blogger). It will not, in short, feel like being in a prison.

By the way, in case anyone wonders why I am making such a fuss on an "education" blog of a mere "training" scheme, well, the following is my answer, which rather to my surprise I heard myself saying to Elena last Sunday: "All good education includes training - all good training includes education."

What I have in mind with this bon (in my opinion) mot is that even the most humdrum training scheme has a philosophical dimension, a meaning dimension, a dimension which addresses the question "Why?" as well as the question "How?" And all good education involves understanding something of how things get done, as well as their abstract nature and philosophical justification and a pile of written down facts about them.

To put it another way, if you like Italian food and the idea of serving it well for a living, then Antonio and Priscilla Carluccio sound like a couple of very good philosophers to get an education from.

Buona fortuna Elena. Is that how they say it over there?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:38 PM
Category: Jobs and careersTraining