“The experiences you can gain as a placement student are invaluable – especially in an industry such as ours where it can seem impossible to get a foot in the door.”
Hear the Professional Training experience of Alice Bentham, BA Theatre and Performance, who split her Professional Training placement year between the National Theatre and the Young Vic Theatre, in London.
“My first placement was in the production department at the National Theatre, assisting Production Managers at the very heart of the organisation.
I joined the department during the production period for As You Like It, from the first day of rehearsals until press night. A major part of my role was assisting the Production Managers in the day to day running of pre-production work. Examples of tasks included research, sourcing materials, liaising with suppliers and purchasing items using the NT’s purchasing systems. I was also expected to act as runner to the production team during fit-ups and onstage production periods. As You Like It was particularly tech-heavy as the scene change involved flying 30+ chairs and tables, which had to be concealed from the audience until the last possible second.
I took on a lot of responsibility not long into my placement after my Production Manager had to unexpectedly take some time off. I took initiative and stepped up to provide additional support to the Deputy Production Manager, taking minutes in weekly production meetings and rigging meetings and being assigned full responsibility for sourcing items such as confetti and snow, liaising directly with the designer throughout. They were so impressed that I was asked to continue these responsibilities as Production Assistant on his return.
Through my placement at the National, I connected with the Technical Director at the Young Vic Theatre, who was able to create a placement for me at the Young Vic, just down the road from the National.
My time at the Young Vic was split between stage management and the lighting department. I assisted the stage management team from the first day of rehearsals through to press night on Joe Penhall’s Blue/Orange starring David Haig, Daniel Kaluuya and Luke Norris. My main duties involved sourcing props, rehearsal furniture and assisting with the upkeep of the rehearsal room. It was important that we responded quickly to any fresh demands that emerged during the rehearsal period, whilst still negotiating with suppliers to keep items at competitive prices. Furthermore, because audience members were guided through a replica of the set before they were seated, the props had to be produced to a level of filmic detail. A highlight was the detail of the research I had to produce – I even conducted research at the Welcome Trust into historic mental health-related promotional materials for all of the paper props used in the production.
During tech rehearsals for another show ‘Cuttin’ It’, I was seconded to assist the stage manager so that he could remain in rehearsals. I provided him with support in prop sourcing which I’d developed a proficiency for on Blue/Orange.
I worked with Young Vic Lighting department on a period of maintenance, and then a community show entitled ‘The Curtain’. During the maintenance period I learnt and developed a lot of hard skills and knowledge relating to the maintenance of lighting fixtures and cables. When it came to the show, I was fully involved in the rigging and focusing during the fit-up, and I took on responsibility for the practical lanterns, which were crucial to the show, seeing to the maintenance of them throughout technical rehearsals and performances.
The experiences you can gain as a placement student are invaluable – especially in an industry such as ours where it can seem impossible to get a foot in the door.
I made a real effort during all of my placements to introduce myself and make contacts around each organisation, which will be an advantage when I’m looking for employment after graduation.
Completing my Professional Training year at such a high calibre of organisations was definitely my greatest university achievement of 2016.
As a result of my developed aptitude in lighting through the Young Vic placement, I was able to successfully design the lighting for a production at the Yvonne Arnaud’s Mill Studio at the beginning of September.
Taking a placement year gave me a refreshed sense of determination for my final year of study. And a lot of the knowledge I gained on placement has directly informed and supplemented my learning on modules in Final Year. If asked, I wouldn’t exchange my experience for the world.”