Oldham College learners have been taking their cue from a star-studded line-up of industry professionals – despite learning remotely.
Around 100 Performing Arts students were at the critical stage of preparing their second assessed performances when the latest Covid-19 lockdown hit in January.
Online learning represents a huge challenge in teaching skills like acting, music and dance – and this vocation was potentially amongst the hardest hit.
Needing to boost morale and ensure learners continued making progress, Miranda Parker, Programme Tutor, reached out to industry stars for help.
She called on professionals including university students and staff, theatre company directors, technical staff, and famous faces to deliver an inspirational series of online talks and masterclasses.
Universities and drama schools, including University Campus Oldham's Performance department, all joined learners for Q&As about university life, the application process and audition tips and tricks.
Oldham Coliseum Theatre, Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA) and The Royal Central School for Speech and Drama delivered remote practical workshops.
Learners also attended inspirational sessions with guests including ex-student Rob Mallard, who plays Daniel Osbourne in Coronation Street, and household treasure Julie Hesmondhalgh, of Corrie, Broadchurch and Doctor Who fame.
Miranda Parker, Programme Tutor, Performing Arts & Technical Theatre with Georgina Abbott, Programme Tutor, Performing Arts and Dance at Oldham College.
Miranda Parker said: “Performing Arts are significantly more challenging to teach and study remotely.
“It’s not easy to stage a virtual play, for example, for dance students to learn complex routines without a partner alongside them, or for musicians to play together when synchronous sound is not possible. That’s why we’ve constantly adapted and been creative to keep things stimulating at Oldham College – with outstanding help from others.”
Learners say they no longer saw lockdown as a disappointment – but as an opportunity to grow.
"There's not one person I haven't told about Julie Hesmondhalgh’s talk!" said Reece Jenkinson. "I also really enjoyed Ben's workshop from Oldham Coliseum: he was really funny and I felt like I could bounce off his confidence."
Hollie Hilton added: "The LIPA workshop was great and all of the uni and drama school events really helped. I picked up some great tips on how to approach my auditions in the current situation."
Events covered all aspects of Performing Arts and Music with support from industry pros including ex-Oldham College students Chloe Heywood, Youth Theatre Facilitator, Steve Jones, Sound Engineer/Tour Manager Hook and the Light (New Order) and Hacienda Classical, plus Jessica Anderson, Actress/Business owner of ReAction stage school, and Jake Talbot, writer/actor at Dare to Know Theatre.
"I really enjoyed hearing from people who started out here," said Pedro Reis. "These talks have shown us that living in Oldham doesn't mean we don't have access to amazing opportunities."
Oldham College learners in Performing Arts at Grange Theatre in non-Covid times
Charlotte Franklin said: “While learning online, we've worked on different skills and how to express creativity in different ways, and it's been great" – and learners also developed their personal skills.
Despite being a Performance student, Ellie Potts wouldn’t describe herself as confident. "At first I felt like I couldn't share, but over the weeks I've gradually spoken up more and this has really helped me to develop," she said.
Kai Brown was in a similar position. "Online just wasn't for me," he explained. "I wasn't motivated at the start of the year, as I was just getting out of bed to go online every day. With the help of these sessions, I'm feeling a lot more optimistic."
Alun Francis, Oldham College Principal and Chief Executive, said: “Oldham College has been a hotbed of talented performers and musicians in recent years.
“Our Performing Arts and Music courses can lead to careers as an actor, audio engineer, choreographer, dancer, entertainer, musician, photographer, DJ, song writer and television engineer.
“This fantastic work from our Performing Arts team shows we are equally as adept delivering learning online as we are face-to-face. We’re also incredibly thankful for the support that former learners and industry professionals have given to the next generation of learners.”
Julie Hesmondhalgh delivering her online masterclass with Oldham College students.