Independent school theatres open to the public
11th September 2018
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Independent school theatres open to the public
Most public schools offer a school theatre, as well as full-time drama teachers, theatre managers and so on. In the state system, you may well have to make do with the school hall and an English teacher who’s keen on am dram. Sadly, in the state system, music and drama also tend to be the first subjects to face cuts. Trips to concerts and to the theatre are common in private schools, particularly boarding ones. But that’s not the case for everyone.
Increasingly though, schools which boast top-class facilities are opening them up to the world, and encouraging the local community to benefit from them as well. St Edward’s School in Oxford funds a proper theatre and art gallery — the North Wall Arts Centre. The centre is home to the school’s drama, dance and gallery facilities; but it also has a programme of more than a hundred public events per year, including theatre, dance, comedy, music and talks. Opened in 2006, it was established with the aim of encouraging emerging artists and new talents, and it has a 200-seat theatre, studios for dance and drama, plus a public art gallery. Its links to the school aren’t made obvious, and the centre brings in about 20,000 public visitors annually. Theatre critic Lyn Gardner describes the centre as ‘a crucial part of theatre’s wider ecology, providing a platform for cutting edge theatre that inspires both audiences and emerging artists. Without it, Oxford wouldn’t just be the poorer; so would the whole of British theatre.’
St Edward’s is just one of many schools across the country which support the performing arts in the wider community. Radley College’s purpose-built art gallery, the Sewell Centre Gallery, was opened in 2013 by artist Jenny Saville. Each year it hosts six contemporary exhibitions — including ones by artists such as Tracey Emin and Bridget Riley — which are open to both Radley pupils and members of the public. Like the North Wall, the Sewell Centre supports up-and-coming local artists.
At Gresham’s School in Norfolk, its theatre is also an important hub for the local arts community. The professionally run Auden Theatre has a full programme of talks, plays and concerts — again, all open to the public. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Gresham’s is so encouraging; alumni include composer Benjamin Britten, Golden Globe-winning actress Olivia Colman and director Stephen Frears. The Auden is also a venue for touring performing arts venues, and it plays an important role in increasing access to the arts in a fairly rural community.
Many other schools operate similar set-ups, and it’s not just in rural areas that more performing arts spaces are needed. At Alleyn’s in Dulwich the MCT theatre seats 350 people and is regularly used by local schools, theatre groups and dance clubs. They also host regular book talks and concerts which anyone can attend; upcoming highlights include author Sebastian Faulks and the BBC’s Jenni Murray. At Charterhouse, the Ben Travers Theatre is used by other local schools for their productions, as well as by the Godalming theatre group.
Football in independent schools has never been in better shape.
The facilities at these schools are first rate, with lush green pitches as smooth as snooker tables. But it’s not just about the mod cons — the teams are getting stronger too. Lots of independent schools award football scholarships. This is good news for everyone, not just the boys who get the scholarships. As anyone who’s played football knows, you can only improve if you go up against players who are better than you. These newcomers don’t just enhance their school team’s prospects, they help their teammates improve.
The governing body of this growing circuit is ISFA, the Independent Schools Football Association. Affiliated to the FA, its chairman is David Elleray, formerly a top Premier League and Fifa referee.
ISFA also fields a national team, and the standard is impressive. Traditionally, ISFA has commonly been regarded as a weaker team than ESFA, the English Schools Football Association, which draws nearly all its schoolboy players from the state sector. However last year ISFA lost 2-1 to ESFA. This year they drew one-all. The gap is closing… could next year be the year that the balance of power shifts in ISFA’s favour?
Meanwhile, the list of professional players who’ve attended independent schools grows by the day. Victor Moses (Chelsea) went to Whitgift, Will Hughes (Watford) went to Repton, Jonathan Bond (Reading) went to Berkhamsted and Michael Doughty (Peterborough United) was at Harrow when he made his first team debut for Queens Park Rangers. Five Millfield old boys are currently playing professional football. Brentwood boasts three Football League players and two Championship managers: Frank Lampard (Derby County) and Neil Harris (Millwall).