Getting Physical  

For over 50 years, East 15 has produced actors, directors, theatre practitioners and technicians. Expanding its range of courses, Susan Elkin looks at the new BA (Hons) in Physical Theatre.

East 15 Acting School, founded by Margaret Bury in 1961 grew out of the work of Joan Littlewood’s famous Theatre Workshop based Theatre Royal Stratford. There’s now a statue of Littlewood in Gerry Raffles Square in front of it.

Bury worked with Littlewood for 14 years before she left to start East 15, named for Theatre Royal Stratford’s post code. It has long been based in a house with grounds at Loughton in Zone 6 on the Circle Line. Notable alumni include Daniel Ezra, Stephen Daldry and Alison Steadman.  

Littlewood’s ideas, based on the truthful emotion in acting advocated by Stanislavksi, still underpin the school’s ethos along with the methods of practitioners such as Michael Chekhov, Rudolf Laban, Jerzy Grotowski, Jacques Lecoq and Peter Brook.

Since 2000 East 15 has been part of the University of Essex, a merger which has enabled it to develop and expand. With 850 students it is now one of Britain’s largest drama schools. More than £16 million has been spent on buildings and facilities in the last decade or so. 

The school now has two campuses – the original one based in a Georgian house in Loughton (newly enhanced by nearby Roding House and Unit 4 where a diverse range of teaching and activities take place) and a more recent one at Southend, where Clifftown Theatre and Studio, once a Victorian gothic church, includes studios, workshops and well-equipped performance spaces. Also at Southend, is East 15’s purpose-built Gateway Building which has rehearsal studios, seminar rooms, computer labs and media production resources including an Apple Mac edit suite.

The expansion has enabled East 15 to offer a wider range of courses than before. Its BA (Hons) in Physical Theatre (UCAS code W494 BA/PTh) is, for example, unusual.

Based at the Southend Campus, the course explores a world of physical and visual performance beyond traditional theatre. “We combine dynamic and exciting devised and ensemble work, including circus, mime, mask and puppetry, alongside a typical British drama school training and modern European methodologies” says the school’s website.

It continues: “You acquire a wide skills base by experiencing areas such as aerial circus, devised storytelling, mask, mime, puppetry and clowning. This is underpinned by a core training in acting, voice, singing and movement, enabling you to create challenging new shows and to re-imagine traditional pieces for public performance.”

The first year includes acting and improvisation, mask work, Bouffon and acrobatics (and more) alongside foundation classes in voice, movement and singing. The second year builds new areas of study such as aerial circus, puppetry and Commedia dell Arte, while the final year concentrates on performance and building industry readiness.

East 15 has been placed first for Drama in the Guardian University Guide 2020. It is a member of Federation of Drama Schools and UK students doing foundation degrees, BA (Hons) and some masters programmes are entitled to student loans and other support. As University of Essex students, they also have full access to university facilities such as libraries and the student union.

Applications for the BA Physical Theatre are invited for a September 2020 start. UK applicants will usually need or expect to have: A-levels: CDD, or the equivalent in UCAS tariff points, to include 2 full A Levels or IB: 25 points. Applicants must also successfully complete a physical workshop audition.

Loughton Campus
+44 (0)20 8508 5983 Hatfields Campus Rectory Lane Loughton IG10 3RY

Southend Campus
+44 (0)1702 328200 Elmer Approach Southend-on-Sea SS1 1LW 
Photo Credit: © East 15 Acting School 2019  

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