More to performing arts than just stage

New Delhi: Careers in performing arts now lie behind the scenes - in fields like lighting, sound and design management. And even for students aspiring to be actors, a firm grasp on these subjects is essential, says leading British performance arts entrepreneur Mark Featherstone-Witty. Witty, 65, is the founding principal and CEO of the prestigious Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (LIPA) in Britain. And he is on a mission to provide sustainable employment to young performing arts students in a field that is constantly changing.

According to him, the performance careers of the future are showing this trend.

"They now lie behind the scenes, in lighting, sound, design and management - in all the technical areas. How many artists spend their life performing on stage?

"Artists now have portfolio careers, which is a mix of performance, technology and business development. Performing is terribly risky. It is very hard to plan a career in performance," Witty told reporters in an interview in the capital.

Witty, who set up LIPA 16 years ago with the help of ex-Beatles Paul McCartney, is in India for the first time to scout for fresh talent for his school that boasts of students from 40 countries.

International students make up at least one-third of the school`s 700 students.

Witty plans to "admit three to four students from India every year in the freshers` class of 180".

His institute offers three-year degree programmes in acting, dancing, singing, entertainment management, sound technology, theatre and performance design and technology.

Witty says he has been drawn to India for three reasons.

"There are a few Britain-born Indians in our institute. Firstly, Indians speak English well, secondly, Indian performance arts is outstanding and, thirdly, I discovered that India is not far away. I want to prepare Indian students for long-term careers in the
constantly changing performance arts industry," he said.

Witty is meeting representatives of the Indian performing arts industry during his week-long stay.

On March 30, Witty and his India liaison, Nick Booker, the promoter of talent platform IndoGenuis, met 10 young achievers from the genres of Indian contemporary pop and rock music, recording industry and the stage in Delhi to deliberate on "how to achieve your potential as a performer".

"Sustainable employment for the performing arts...that was the challenge which prompted the creation of LIPA 16 years ago.

"And it still remains a challenge. We approached the survivors - performing arts people who had made their mark and sustained a working life. Some were giants. They were asked to identify the essential skills which helped them survive and often learnt the hard way. Their observations helped me design the curriculum for the school," he said.

Witty said he constantly revises his curriculum.

"We prepare our students for what will happen in three or four years from now. We teach them a variety of things because quite a lot spend their life doing a group of activities like teaching, performing and writing," he said.

Citing an example of a changing performance industry, Witty said: "The biggest supplier of music in the world is now the computer company.

"No one could predict that. The album has just vanished. People say that record companies have a short life to live, though more music is being listened to now than ever. But the actual music is now part of the big business," said the entrepreneur, who had earlier set up the British Record Industry Trust School in London.

"The whole of the performing arts is business," Witty observed. And all his students first learn "business skill development".

"There are few jobs for life. For teaching students, to be adaptable is the first thing. We try to bring as many people as we can from the disciplines to LIPA and they tell us and the students what is going happen. I personally teach professional development - communication skills, negotiations and group dynamics," he said.

The spotlight is on collaboration because "every performing art you go to is a collaboration between a variety of people", Witty says.

"In the first term of the first year, we divide the batch into small groups of students from every discipline and tell them to put on a 20-minute show. It teaches them teamwork," he said.

According to a statement by Paul McCartney, in 2010, at least 94 percent of the school`s graduates found employment in the performance arts sector.


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