Ref NoBOV/6
TitleRecords relating to Bristol Old Vic education and outreach activities and programmes (including Education Department and Youth Theatre)
DescriptionBristol Old Vic appointed its first David Hornbrook as its the Company’s first Education Consultant during autumn 1986. Hornbrook's remit was to lead an investigation into the Bristol Old Vic's existing education and schools programme and look at ways of reorganising, professionalising and (where necessary) improve the theatre’s work in this field. The Arts Council and other fundholding and advocacy bodies were at that putting an increasing emphasis on encouraging arts organisations to diversify their outreach and education activities and engage new audiences.

Hornbrook's study led to the publication of a report entitled ‘The Bristol Old Vic: A Resource for Learning’ (1987). The study noted that whilst the theatre did not have a coherent education programme related to a policy commitment, it had hitherto supported a range of activities and projects that were educational, all of which had developed in a piecemeal way since Bristol Old Vic was founded in 1946. These included: Play Plus Days (later called Playdays) for schools and colleges, organised by the Theatre Manager during a run of suitable productions and which involved a morning of discussion and/or demonstration by the show’s director, sometimes assisted by actors or members of the design team, followed by a matinee performance, charged at £2.50 per student; Backstage tours for external groups; Talks and lectures to external groups and organisations; Courses relating to theatre work, usually run by Heads of Department in respond to outside requests for practical theatre workshops; Work experience placements for Theatre School and University Bristol Drama Department students, secondary school students, students working on specific projects, and Youth Training Scheme placements; Teachers’ Notes for Productions; Reduced ticket prices for schools; Schools and Colleges Mailing List; Bristol Old Vic Company touring productions to local schools.

The report advocated for the formation of a general support service at the Bristol Old Vic to extend the range of theatre performance and associated education and outreach work with schools and the wider community, and the formulation of a Community and Education Policy. The report was wholly endorsed by Bristol Old Vic Trust’s Board of Governors and the document became much in demand from other theatre companies. Bristol Old Vic appointed its first Community Liaison Officer, Paul James, towards the end of 1986. A multi-ethnic offshoot company named Company 3 was then established (at the initiative of Artistic Director Leon Rubin and others) with the aim of reinvigorating the local educational theatrical tour format. Unfortunately this initiative was short short-lived, with the Company disbanded a year later as a result of the financial problems and organisational restructuring that Bristol Old Vic was facing by the late 1980s, but during its brief existence performed cutting-edge interpretations of classics and newer plays, their production of Shakespeare's 'Julius Caesar' being a notable success. Company 3 productions generally ran for a short run in the New Vic Studio, then toured local schools, community centres, youth clubs and other venues - for example, the tour itinerary always included Leyhill Prison, where it was noted that the inmates responded well to the performances, often assisting with with setting up the stage and other settings. This local educational touring format was however re-started in 1992 with the ‘Raw Tours’, with productions of ‘Blood Brothers’ and ‘Two’ visiting the New Vic and many of the venues Company 3 had performed around five years previously.

A new post of Education and Community Development Officer was advertised by spring 1987, but appointments were delayed due to other pressing business, including the need to find a new Artistic Director following Leon Rubin’s departure. The new Education Department’s work effectively began in 1988 following the appointment of a new officer in February that year, but the internal wider financial and organisational fluxes at the theatre meant it took a while for a coherent education and outreach policy to be finalised, coupled with the fact that up until early 1990 successive appointees officers lacked experience in main house theatres and/or were not themselves educational practitioners. Despite this, a programme of public Open Days was nonetheless introduced in 1988 which proved to be a success. A concessionary ticket scheme for disadvantaged people was also implemented the following year, which also had a large uptake.

In February 1990 Foz Allan was appointed Bristol Old Vic's first Education Director. Allan had already been an Associate Director at the Company since 1989, and in the four years he remained at the Company prior to his departure in 1993 began to properly implement many of the recommendations of the Hornbrook report. A new report, co-written by Allan and the Artistic Director Paul Unwin, was published in early 1990 which looked at the key recommendations and next steps in terms of the future direction of the Company’s educational programme in more detail, contextualised within broader developments in public arts and educational policy and other initiatives, most notably the new National Curriculum. At the start of 1991 a Youth Theatre was established for 8 to 11, 14 to 16 and 17 to 20-year olds. The established programmes Play Days, Director's Previews and After-Show Talkarounds were overhauled and improved. Teachers' Packs for schools were produced, workshops took place across various schools in the Avon area, and careers sessions were organised. The Company was beginning to position itself at the forefront of a network of educational practitioners and contacts on matters theatrical throughout the region. The department got sponsorship from Lloyds Bank to support the 1990/1 Season Playdays and accompanying Teachers' Packs and was supported in its work by Avon County Council, and built vital links with local schools, teachers, young people and community groups. The work of the Education Department was consolidated throughout the period 1991 to 1992, with a full programme of Playdays, After-Show Talkarounds, induction sessions for young people, and the annual Open Day. A series of drama workshops toured the county of Avon, with additional sponsorship provided by National Westminster Bank. In Autumn 1991 the Youth Theatre staged its first production in the New Vic Studio with Friedrich Durrenmatt’s large cast play, ‘The Visit’.

Unfortunately, continued financial problems at Bristol Old Vic unfortunately necessitated significant redundancies and the closure of the Education Department and Youth Theatre during the period 1993/4. The theatre maintained its commitment to working with schools and students, providing workshops and special events on an ad hoc basis on a much-reduced scale and at an impact to the already overstretched core management and staff. Two local actresses, Sally Cookson and Heather Williams, resurrected the Youth Theatre in 1995, running it voluntarily in their own time, sustaining the operation by charging the 100 strong membership (aged 6-18) £2.50 per week, which also had to cover production materials and guest fees for weekly workshops, performances, theatre visits and masterclasses. Bristol Old Vic’s education and outreach programme continued to operate on this freelance basis until 1998, by which point increasing demand coupled with the fact the theatre was now in a more stable financial position necessitated that the Education Department now be re-established on a more formal and permanent basis. The Education and Outreach Department (now run by Lucy Hunt) continues to operate, as does the Young Company (as the Youth Theatre is known today) is one of the largest regional youth theatres in the country, with a membership of 350 young people aged 5 to 25 years old. For more information about Bristol Old Vic's educational, outreach and community programmes, events and workshops today (including information about the Young Company) please see website

The Bristol Old Vic archive includes a number administrative files, production-related material, photographs and audio-visual material relating to the Company's early educational programme and work with schools, the work of the Bristol Old Vic Education Department and Youth Theatre/Young Company (from the late 1980s), and other miscellaneous education and outreach-related activities such as lectures and talks led by BOV Directors, Managers and other staff.
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