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Apprenticeships – Case Studies

Thomas Forrest, Scenic Carpentry

Where did you see the apprenticeship advertised?

I initially found the Opera House at the Skills London careers fair. This was when I found out they offered apprenticeships in the industry I was interested in. I spoke to apprentices there who could give me all the information that I needed.

What made you apply for the apprenticeship?

I didn’t decide one day that I wanted to pursue a career in carpentry but throughout my time at school and sixth form I always chose the subjects that I enjoyed. Naturally this lead to me applying for the apprenticeship and I am thoroughly enjoying it! I have always said that people should do what they enjoy and I am a firm believer in that. I also think it is important that young people are not lead down a path that might not be right for them.

Describe a ‘typical day’ as an apprentice at the Royal Opera House?

A ‘typical day’ would be doing something completely different from the previous days. For me there are plenty of different jobs to be doing at the workshop; anything from building staircases to constructing the set for a world famous opera. The variety of day-to-day tasks was a massive surprise to me but I am glad I get to experience and learn about all the different processes and techniques.

How do you find the workplace/college balance?

I enjoy my work / college split as I get to attend college in blocks of two weeks. I complete a total of ten weeks at college each year. The rest of my time is spent at the workshop where I have five-six weeks before each college block. Being able to have two weeks dedicated to college at one time is much better rather than taking a day of each week for college. The two-week blocks are suitable for my course as it allows for more work to be completed as the work is practical based.

What do you enjoy most about your apprenticeship?

The relationships you build with colleagues and fellow apprentices. Whether you are based at the workshop or at Covent Garden there is always another apprentice to meet up with at lunch or after work. Throughout the year we have apprentice days where we get to know each other even more and do some fun activities together.

Is the apprenticeship what you expected?

Everything and more! After completing my trial during the application process it made me want the apprenticeship even more. I find the workshop quite mesmerizing and I am amazed by the scale and complexity of the shows that can be produced.

What would you like to do after your apprenticeship is completed?

I would love to stay at the Opera House but I would also like to explore the industry. The Royal Opera House is a massive company and has some of the most talented people to learn from.

What advice would you give to someone considering applying for an apprenticeship at The Royal Opera House?

Never limit yourself. Always try and achieve more than you think is possible. Take every opportunity that comes your way because any experience is useful experience. I think it’s important to be yourself and show your interest in the area you are applying for. Promote yourself and your abilities and don’t be afraid of making mistakes.

Kelly Allen, Scenic Art

Where did you see the apprenticeship advertised?

I found the advert on an online job search website. As soon as I read it I knew I didn’t want to do anything else.

What made you apply for the apprenticeship?

I’d never thought about doing an apprenticeship before, and I never went to Uni because I had no idea what I wanted to do. As a result I’d spent years in jobs that had nothing to do with anything creative. The Scenic Art apprenticeship offered me a path into an exciting creative industry, with a focus on learning the skills I would need to develop a long career.

Describe a ‘typical day’ as an apprentice at the Royal Opera House?

On the whole, so far every day has been completely different from the last – on Monday I could be filling and sanding a set for an opera, Tuesday and Wednesday I could be in Covent Garden repairing bits of a damaged ballet set, Thursday I might be back in Purfleet applying texture to a flat, then spend Friday gilding sections of ornate coving. It’s impossible to be bored working for the Royal Opera House.

How do you find the workplace/college balance?

Going to college every few weeks makes for quite a nice change of scene and offers you the chance to spend some time working with people at the same level as you.

What do you enjoy most about your apprenticeship?

The opportunity it’s given me. I’m lucky enough to work with people at the height of their careers with years of experience and knowledge that they’re more than happy to impart on to me. I get to work on actual sets and see them in action live on stage, and continually build upon the foundations of my career as a Scenic Artist.

Is the apprenticeship what you expected?

Yes and no. I had so many ideas and assumptions about what the apprenticeship would be like, and to be honest from day one it’s only ever exceeded my expectations. My only regret is not applying sooner.

What would you like to do after your apprenticeship is completed?

Goodness knows, there are so many options! But I definitely think I’d like to stay working within theatre and work towards broadening my knowledge and experience.

What advice would you give to someone considering applying for an apprenticeship at the Royal Opera House?

Prepare to be thrown in at the deep end, don’t be put off by opera or ballet but be more than keen to learn about them both – it will become your life – and just take every opportunity presented to you.

James Pike, Technical Theatre

Where did you see the apprenticeship advertised?

It’s a weird one but being based in Devon I ‘liked’ all the Facebook pages of all the ‘big theatres’ in London as that’s where I knew I wanted to be so the apprenticeship vacancies just came up on my Facebook feed. So I looked into it thinking it would be worth a try and well…hello!

What made you apply for the apprenticeship?

After I first saw it advertised on Facebook I then did some research into the technical theatre apprenticeships in and around London and other big cities, and applied for what I thought was the three main roles in London to start; at the National Theatre, Whitelight and the Opera House and just hoped for the best. I just realised how perfect it was not only for me but to learn the industry. This isn’t something you can just learn from a book or at Uni / drama school.

Describe a ‘typical day’ as an apprentice at the Royal Opera House?

I can imagine you’ve read this answer in all the case studies but there is no typical day at the Opera House, potentially why it’s in inverted commas!! As the technical apprentice I’m all over the place departments-wise which means not only do my shifts change week by week but what I’m doing day-to-day as well. For example, last week I was building the sets for The Nutcracker and Rigoletto, two huge shows and this week I’m in Sound greeting the BBC to the studio. Mad!

How do you find the workplace/college balance?

Totally great! I have a tutor who marks my assignments which I upload to an online portfolio and every month or so she pops in for a hello and a catch up to ensure I’m on the right tracks. I thought I was going to have to physically go in to college every week and sit in a classroom for the whole day but I don’t; I get just one day a week off so I can complete the college work and I can do that anywhere! The National Theatre, I have learnt, has great sofas!

What do you enjoy most about your apprenticeship?

Anything and everything! It’s just exactly what I hoped to be doing in ten years’ time, but actually doing it now. Working in one of the greatest theatres of them all, getting a qualification out of it, getting paid while I learn, making amazing contacts, making amazing friends… You get the hint. As of yet I’ve found nothing to moan to anyone about! It’s awesome. I’m friends with people at the top of their game in the industry who have come off shows such as Phantom of the Opera and Matilda as chief electricians and lighting designers. Having them on your side to help you is the best, and to know they do care and want you to get far is just great. Having spoken to people at the Opera House that went to Uni or drama school, they tell me how they wished this scheme was around when they were studying.

Is the apprenticeship what you expected?

No! is the short answer if that helps? The longer answer is no: it’s so much better than I could ever have thought and wished. I thought that we’d be very restricted to what we were allowed to do, not have much involvement with the productions and just be seen as a bit of extra help! But how wrong I was! I have, like I said, helped build the set for The Nutcracker, arguably the most popular production of the year, and rigged lighting for live streams on the Facebook and YouTube pages that reach tens of thousands of people. I’ve even had people tell me that I have been spotted on The Nutcracker live stream that goes to cinemas all around the world so you get involved like you can’t imagine!

What would you like to do after your apprenticeship is completed?

Go wherever the apprenticeship takes me! Get my mixing skills up to scratch so I can be sat behind a Sound console for Wicked or Matilda for example? Who knows! That’s what I love about the industry, you have no idea where it will take you so making plans is always so hard. Having said that though, I want to work in the West End (some people say I am already but I say that’s cheating!), Broadway and in Sydney. So fingers crossed.

What advice would you give to someone considering applying for an apprenticeship at the Royal Opera House?

Go for it! The only bad thing they can say is no which only means you have a chance next year. I think that if you’re worried about it, don’t be. I was a little ‘Country Bumpkin’ from Devon when I had to travel up for my interview and I just sat on the train thinking about it, thinking this is awesome! Just the fact that I get to be stood in the backstage areas! Show you’re keen and that it means the world to you. There’s nothing worse than hearing a person say 'sounded cool so thought I might give it a go' – so many passionate people try for a place each year so make sure you’re that person who shows you're dead keen for, in my case technical theatre and you want to learn and become the best you can become. Also try and get some basic experience / work experience in. It proves that you want to be here and shows that you’re keen. And that’s all it comes down to: your wanting to be here. Also remember that it doesn’t matter where you come from; everyone’s got a chance. Last thing I can say is best of luck and I hope to see you next year!

Daisy Claisse, Dye technician

Where did you see the apprenticeship advertised?

I was actually notified by one of my teachers at my school, when I was at sixth form. She received an email from the Royal Opera House reaching out to young individuals wanting to create the next steps in their career.

What made you apply for the apprenticeship?

For me, it was a great opportunity to grab some experience, especially for such a well-established company. I know the wealth of experience that they have here dates back centuries and it wouldn’t make sense to put off such an experience that you could never learn in further education / university.

Can you describe a ‘typical day’ as an apprentice at the Royal Opera House?

A ‘typical day’ doesn’t exist when you work in costume! Every costume is different and treated accordingly, and that could mean anything in the dye shop that the costume needs to be revived, broken down, dyed, sprayed or hand-painted. The various decorative techniques that we do are uncountable, making every day new and exciting!

How do you find the workplace/college balance?

As part of the apprenticeship, 20% of your working week has to be training. So one day a week I go to college. The balance of college and work is sometimes quite tricky, having to balance your apprenticeship coursework and then do a normal working day. However, if anything, the Royal Opera House and my college have been nothing but flexible, making the whole process pretty much stress free; it’s all about communication.

What do you enjoy most about your apprenticeship?

I personally love the more intricate work that we get to do with a costume; when you can spend days hand painting a costume or doing multi-coloured ombre dyeing. Those laborious tasks are honestly the most rewarding. I recently hand-painted delicate little flowers around the hem of a wedding dress for the ballet A Winter’s Tale taking three days! However, the finished product was so beautiful, it gave me nothing but pride.

Is the apprenticeship what you expected?

I went into this apprenticeship only having a basic understanding of what an apprenticeship actually is, that you “earn while you learn” or you have a day or two at college and the rest is work. Well it is just that, only that in this apprenticeship we were given so much more, with development days and apprentice days where we were able to learn things like how to take care of our bodies at work with lifting training and fun Christmas days where we get to bond with the other apprentices and give each other advice – the support is overwhelming. It was a big adjustment at first, definitely a step away from college; where suddenly you have major responsibility for a project that isn’t your own work. When you are at college, all of your work is self-driven (with help from your teacher). Now you are liable to deliver a designer’s vision and the pressure can be quite high.

What would you like to do after your apprenticeship is completed?

After my apprenticeship I would love to work freelance, working in dye shops in theatres all over London. However, knowing that my job is so niche, I would also love to work in an art studio, assisting and creating artwork.

What advice would you give to someone considering applying for an apprenticeship at the Royal Opera House?

I would advise possible applicants to really consider what you are applying for. The whole point of the programme is to learn, so don’t worry too much about your current standard being overly polished; just make sure you are driven and very passionate. Your willingness to learn is what will shine the most.

Harvey Thompson, Learning and Participation

Where did you see the apprenticeship advertised?

Essentially my mum discovered this apprenticeship first then once she told me about it. I looked it up and it was on the www.gov.uk website.

What made you apply for the apprenticeship?

I wasn’t ready to go to University. It just wasn’t for me once I had finished college but equally I wanted to continue working and learning in an area that I was passionate about (and the fact that I get paid too is also a bonus).

Can you describe a ‘typical day’ as an apprentice at the Royal Opera House?

Typical day? That doesn’t exist and I guess you can only truly understand that once you start working. Each day offers you something brand new and you are always on your feet. Whether that’s transforming a Church into a venue for an Insight event or decorating part of the Opera House so that it looks like a scene from The Nutcracker, the creativity is endless.

How do you find the workplace/college balance?

I love it, carrying out both work and college work together to make sure I am getting the best experience possible. I go to college once every two months but I still have assignments to be doing in between that links in with my placement work which is brilliant.

What do you enjoy most about your apprenticeship?

The people. Everyone is brilliant. From the creative people in my office that each have very different backgrounds and experience with the creative arts in general – not just opera and ballet – to the apprentices who cover a range of ages but each of us are just as passionate about our apprenticeship as the other. It’s brilliant. Being in a place that’s just bursting with creativity and passion is amazing too; it makes everything easier and makes projects feel bigger and better. Also, the responsibility and trust that is placed upon me when working is brilliant because I am able to just get on with things whilst being treated like an adult at the same time. It's a great feeling especially coming straight from college.

Is the apprenticeship what you expected?

Absolutely not. It’s so much better. I don’t really have an idea of what I expected this apprenticeship to be like, in all honesty but it definitely wasn’t as fast-paced or exciting as it has turned out to be – which I love. I’m constantly doing something or meeting someone. It’s brilliant!

What would you like to do after your apprenticeship is completed?

After my apprenticeship, I would like to continue working in the community arts area and also set up my own inclusive performing arts company or something with music would also be brilliant.

What advice would you give to someone considering applying for an apprenticeship at the Royal Opera House?

DO IT! Even if you don’t get the job, at least you tried.

Apprenticeships at the Royal Opera House are generously supported by the Derek Butler Trust, Jasper Conran OBE, the Gordon Foundation and Thurrock Borough Council.