by Norman Warwick

Hull University advertised a course for the beginning of the 2020 educational term (whenever that might be, I guess) that will be conducted in The Gulbenkian Centre, a grade2 listed building. This is a purpose built working theatre complete with studios and workshops.

According to press reports recently, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber is threatening to take all his shows abroad rather than continuing to spend on keeping open his theatres that still have no proposed opening dates, and like all other theatres in the UK have stood empty now for months. It might seem incongruous, then, that the university is calling students to come and ´build the technical and practical skills of theatre production.´ Their students will learn about the industry from experts, including tutorial staff and a range of successful graduate theatre companies such as The Roaring Girls, Silent Uproar and Middle Child.

With the theatre world in this strange limbo of enforced hibernation there is a real danger that these skills might be disappear in any seriously prolonged shutdown that might leave a lost generation and an absence of those able to teach these skills that might resuscitate theatre when a new dawn breaks.

So, this innovative new degree course could help the next generation to not only drive the future of creative industries, an area the university recruitment tell us generates more than a hundred billion pounds per annum for the UK economy. but also could revive the fortunes of a crippled theatre sector.

The University has created three distinct pathways. The first route builds a strong foundation of employability skills within the creative industries. These include development of leadership and project management techniques. The second route explores critical issues in the arts, such as well-being and the slightly ´oddly´ titled field of culturepreneurship, whilst the third route develops specialist skills in fields personally selected by each student, including Game Design, Media Production, Music, Music Production and of course Theatre Production.

Hull Truck

The University enjoys strong links to regional and national arts organisations such as Hull Truck, The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Solid State Logic, Screen Yorkshire and Absolutely Cultured.  Students taking the course would benefit from a hands-on approach to learning. This would be achieved by working with client groups and putting newly developed skills to the test in the real world. There is every chance students will graduate from such a course as confident and competent industry-professionals, each carrying an enviable portfolio of skills, projects and experience as well as their own bespoke ambitions and aspiration for a new world of theatre.

The University regularly reviews this course, (and all its others) to ensure they continue to meet their academic promises and high standards. There is no knee-jerk change for the sake of change, however, and alterations are only made after a thorough re-validation process has been undertaken.

In the first year alone students will take part in live project management and event planning, being marked on the effectiveness of their contributions rather than on any examination papers.

They will also look at the growing relationship between arts and health and well-being and arts in society and the skill of managing and working with people from different specialisms. Students will of course have to be aware of how arts exist in contemporary society and how to pitch ideas to ensure that co-existence.

All this will develop research skills in specialist subjects and create a digital literacy relevant, and these days more important than ever, to the theatre industry. At all universities at the moment undergraduates and freshers are hoping to continue or commence such innovative courses but are still unsure as to how covid19 will impact on the delivery style. In the case of this particular course it is hoped as near normal a service as possible can be provided. London theatres, and others around the wider UK, and indeed the whole world, are standing empty and facing such severe financial pressure that, at the time of writing, Andrew Lloyd Webbing is berating and begging the government about lack of financial support.

Forward thinking innovators, armed with the skill set this Hull industries course might provide will be essential to ensuring we don´t lose theatres that are so much part of the UK´s cultural heritage.

Successive governments have not only gradually removed support and funding from such people and sectors but at worst have torn down the very infrastructures of community arts.

Perhaps one aspect that it is essential to address on university courses like this one is how to persuade government of the benefit to them of giving support.

Boris Johnson and his cabinet might do well to study an excellent publication by the Inter-American Development Bank, the results of which are published as s practice-based handbook entitled Creative And Cultural Industries In Urban Revitalisation and can be found at


I´m well aware that I harp on about this all the time, but throughout my working life in Rochdale I felt privileged to be part of a town that had more than a dozen local-revenue-funded arts companies, including M6 Theatre. Founded in 1977 and based in Rochdale.

M6 Theatre Company, for instance, is acknowledged as one of Britain’s leading theatre companies specialising in creating and delivering dynamic, quality and relevant work for, with and by children and young people. We create original theatre productions that:

M6’s highly acclaimed productions tour nationally and internationally to theatre venues and festivals, and locally to schools and community settings.  The company’s rich programme includes inspiring and highly visual shows for young audiences and compelling short single voice plays for older audiences. 

Our year-round participatory programme provides opportunities for young people from diverse backgrounds to participate in high quality and accessible theatre-arts activities. These take place at M6 Studio Theatre as well as schools and community settings within Rochdale Borough.

M6 Theatre works in partnership with: Rochdale Borough Culture Network, Rochdale’s Children, Young People and Families Partnership and Rochdale Local Education Partnership (LCEP)

Our memberships and affiliations include: Curious Minds, Early Arts,  Independent Theatre Council, Theatre for Young Audiences, Actions for Childrens’ Arts and National Campaign for the Arts.

Other revenue-funded arts organisations still working in Rochdale include Skylight Circus Arts and Can´t Dance Can (nee Spiraldance). Reading this course description I now realise how far ahead of their time are these visionaries who contribute so much to their community.

I think of those I was working with twenty and more years ago, like Dot Wood at M6 and the communities she and her writers and producers and administrators so benefitted and I realise that Catherine Wilkes, Lucy Newton and Romina Thornton and Margaret Greenwood from Can´t Dance Can brought so much more than dancing skills to the floor. If I never quite articulated my rambling thoughts at the time I now see clearly how forward-thinking, multi-skilled and compassionate was Rosie Marcus who brought independent arts practitioners like myself, revenue-funded organisations, educational authorities and teachers and pupils together to ensure arts remained a thriving part of the pre-university curriculum.

Rosie worked for the then government-funded organisation Artists In School, but the indifference of several myopic and callous governments has denied more than several generations now of what Artists In Schools brought to the under-privileged, disenchanted and disenfranchised.

Rob Howell

I think fondly still of two marvellous Arts Officers. Rob Howell in Blackburn and the late Beata Mielemeier in Rochdale: enthusiastic, cajoling, bartering, pleading and demanding on behalf of the arts sector they represented and the communities who might benefit from what the arts had to offer.

Successive governments have not only gradually removed support and funding from such people and sectors but at worst have torn down the very infrastructures of community arts.

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