Learning at The Lir  

Small class sizes and reduced tuition fees are just two of the many benefits from opting to study at The Lir in Dublin. Susan Elkin delves deeper

There’s a flourishing theatre industry in Dublin – The Abbey, The Gate, the Gaiety and much more. Ireland has produced many acclaimed playwrights too from Shaw, Wilde and Beckett to Brendan Behan, Brian Friel, Martin McDonagh to name but a handful.

And yet, before 2011 – some useful training at, for example, the Gaiety, notwithstanding – there was no drama school in Ireland. Irish students wanting a fully-fledged drama school had to go the UK, elsewhere in Europe or to the USA.

It was a gap just waiting to be filled. The Lir was founded as part of Trinity College Dublin (TCD) in 2011 where it has developed and flourished for six years. Today it has 110 students so there’s plenty of individual attention. “The idea from the beginning was to work closely with RADA and replicate its methodology” says Brian Conway, the Lir’s director of technical theatre, explaining that the original five-year contract with RADA has been renewed and the relationship is ongoing.

Anyone training at The Lir is a TCD student, so of course they enjoy the same facilities and entitlements as the rest of the university. It offers both undergraduate and post graduate training along with short courses. There is, for example a BA in acting and a parallel one in technical theatre due to be upgraded from a two-year diploma course with effect from September 2017. “We’ve based it on the very successful RADA model”, says Barry Conway, “and we’re hoping that the extra year will give us more scope to allow students to opt for specialisms and to reflect more on their practice.” He adds: “That’s important because there’s so much breadth in this technical theatre training. As it is, we often say that we’re training for at least nine different careers.”

Students from various courses work closely together. “The Lir stages eleven full productions a year including an opera with Royal Irish Academy of Music and two films, on which the acting students and their technical counterparts collaborate. For example, our technical students start practical work in their first week and are crewing on their first show by Christmas” says Barry. In some cases – including the summer festival or “Gradfest” – the Lir’s MFA (Master of Fine Art) students studying theatre directing, stage design or play writing are involved too.

There’s also a wider community commitment at The Lir alongside its full-time vocational training. Among other activities, it runs a 30-day Junior Academy spread over four months for 15-18 year olds, as well as evening classes and summer schools teaching various disciplines at a range of levels

So, how’s the relationship with the parent university? “We are very much an integral part of Trinity College Dublin from which we receive terrific support and benefits” says Barry. “At the same time, though, we are respected for our very specialist expertise and have the freedom and independence to give the students the industry-focused training we know they need. It’s the best of both worlds!”

Students applying to The Lir for full-time courses are usually required to have the same exam passes as any other Trinity College Dublin student. That means the Irish Leaving Certificate in six subjects including English and there are alternative specific subject requirements in combinations. The equivalent for a UK student is usually a range of GCSE and A level subjects to meet the subject criteria and there are similar specifications for overseas students who come to The Lir from all over Europe and from countries such as USA and Russia.

On the other hand, none of that is set in stone. Training for work in theatre, TV and film is flexible and creative. “We’re looking for real talent, commitment and willingness to engage” says Barry. And the website clearly states that entry requirements can be fluid if “exceptional natural talent is presented at audition.”

You can only really judge a school’s success by looking at the outcomes for students at the end of their courses and The Lir is still very new. “Our students are pretty busy and engaged when they graduate” says Conway. “They go on work with venues all over Dublin. Some of them also create and take shows to festivals such as Edinburgh Fringe or Adelaide. Others work in theatres elsewhere including the West End.”

Ironically, ten years ago Irish students mostly came to the UK to train as actors and technical theatre professionals. Now the movement tends to be in the opposite direction because training at TCD seems – at the moment – very cost effective. Lir fees are €3,000 per year for all EU students plus one or two small additional payments. Moreover, The Lir offers means-tested bursaries to assist students in need with living expenses. All of this may change, of course, for British students after Brexit.