Gallery: Film students learning the tricks of the trade away from the limelight

Suffolk New College students  Production arts course

Suffolk New College students Production arts course - Credit: Mike Kwasniak

IT SEEMS that everyone wants to be a celebrity these days. But while being on stage can bring fame and fortune behind the scenes there is also work to be done.

James Marston meets some students who are learning the tricks of the trade away from the limelight.

Backstage at the theatre is usually dark, cramped and hot. Fame and fortune are thin on the ground – but for some students at Suffolk New College there is nowhere they would rather be.

Focusing on stage management, technical stage, front of house and theatre management, the college’s BTEC diploma in production arts – equivalent to three A-levels – works alongside Ipswich’s New Wolsey Theatre to give students hands-on experience of working in the theatre.

Fiona Simpson, course lecturer, said the course covers all aspects of backstage production in the first year allowing students to specialise in the second.

She said: “The students learn in a hands-on practical manner at the New Wolsey Theatre. The students work at the theatre for two days a week and spend one day a week at college.

“They get experience in front of house and box office, technical stage operations, sound, lighting, set design, stage management and we have a module on puppet making and scale model making.

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“In the second year, students get the chance to specialise into areas such as set design, lighting or sound, front of house or stage management.

“There are obvious links with the industry and students get the chance to build up contacts which is so important in the industry.”

As well as working with and shadowing staff at the New Wolsey, the students also work backstage on the college’s in-house shows.

Fiona, who also works as a freelance lighting technician and designer in the theatre, said the college is encouraging new applicants to the course which is in an area that is recognised as having a skills shortage.

Vicky Lewis, 17, decided to change from performing arts to arts production on the day of her enrolment at the college.

She said: “I started the course in September. I came up to enrol and I was going to do performing arts but within 20 minutes I changed my mind and decided to do this course instead.

“You can’t have acting or singing on stage without lighting and sound. I have developed a love for arts production and I am really interested in stage management.

“Its great fun and I love being around everyone and working as part of the show. I get a great buzz of it.”

Vicky is hoping to specialise in stage management in her second year.

Student Ben Ager, also 17, first got interested in backstage work while at Ipswich Academy.

He said: “I did some stage work at high school and it was good fun. This course came up just as I was leaving school so it worked out really well for me.”

Attracted by the future job prospects offered by the course, Ben said he hoped to specialise in lighting design in his second year.

He said: “I have always enjoyed going to the theatre and there needs to be a backstage crew for it to work. I enjoy working as part of a team that entertains others.”

Vicky and Ben have already worked on the New Wolsey rock pantomime Sleeping Beauty and the thriller And Then The Dark during which they shadowed New Wolsey staff, as well as working on the stage musical 13 performed by college students.

For more information visit or call Fiona or programme leader Jo King on 382211.

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