When I opened The MTA back in 2009 I always knew that I wanted to create a #college4life. I used to joke with the students that it was so much more than a hashtag, but in truth, I don’t think that I realised the enormity of what we co-created until it all ended.
I commented last year when we announced that we were closing for the first time that I was amazed that the college and indeed the theatrical community rallied to save us. I was surprised that people cared and I was amazed given the anti-drama college narrative that had evolved since 2020. Whilst of course it’s true to note that we were saved by a couple of rather big donations (I know….I know…I see the irony too), it’s also fair to say that the crowdfunded appeal helped enormously. Let’s not forget that the students raised £16,858 in just 14 days. Donations came from known supporters, friends of students that had been part of The MTA life over the past decade or so, but also from suppliers that we worked with and staff who all valued what we were trying to do.
I have to say that I had spent the last year buoyed up by that appeal. It felt like we had received some industry endorsement to carry on after years of feeling on the outside of the establishment. Then when Trinity changed their validation criteria so that we could finally work towards a government funding stream for the students it felt like the fight was well and truly won. We’d got through the worse.
Of course, I’m writing this on my 2nd week of funemployment, so it’s fair to say that I had been lulled into a false sense of security. However, in that gifted year, we saw our community slowly emerging from the hibernation of covid. We had started to see our ambassadors (graduates) returning to college for free classes or just for a catch-up. Things were getting back to normal.
We have a private Facebook group for those graduates that want to participate in the old #college4life. It’s a safe online space where graduates can voice opinions, ask questions, hell, maybe even rant and we all sort of listen without judgement (well. . . there probably is judgement off-line but that’s just life right?)
You see The MTA was designed to stay small, thereby ensuring that all of our graduates had a shared experience. All the headshots on the wall were part of our everyday lives – so when a student eventually graduated and hit that first audition, they just might see a familiar face ready to reassure them. Due to our stupidly low staff turnover, there was a common ground that they all inhabited, from the stories of being called into my office to the various quirks of all the regular staff. It was reassuring.
When the Trinity pre-validation assessment required me to hand over student destinations for the last 3 years, I pointed out that I felt that that was unfair, as theatres had been dark for a large percentage of that time. So I volunteered us to send in student destinations since our first graduates left in 2011. Of the 192 graduates that we had a stonking 180 of them filled out quite an involved Google form within 2 weeks. In fact, when we were on our 3rd month of waiting for the much talked about report <ahem>, Trinity told us that our percentage breakdown of destinations needed to be expanded on. Now in truth. . . I honestly believe that this was yet another delaying tactic in the “who’s going to write our report” saga, however, if it was, it must have backfired on them massively when I was able to present 180 graduate CV breakdowns by return email.
My point of course is that the majority of our graduates kept investing in us, and that is incredible and really humbling.
So why a community then and not the drama college favorite of “we’re like a family”. Well for lots of people the concept of family is hugely problematic, so why try to recreate it? Better a community which could support one another, provide a safe space when needed, and of course most importantly of all laugh together.
When we announced that we were closing the faculty and I remained committed to the #college4life idea of community. The MTA email addresses were changed to private email addresses, the emergency phone numbers were swapped to personal phone numbers, the Facebook group remained, and a WhatsApp group was formed. You see if we’ve learned anything since the pandemic it’s that communities are essential lifelines to so many people, and if lockdown taught us anything it’s that an online community if managed responsibly, can still provide the safety net that can keep us connected.
Finding your tribe is an important rite of passage, holding onto them is your greatest gift in life.