MADD College Nottingham celebrates 50 Years! Interview with Frances Clayton.

The acclaimed performance arts college, the Midlands Academy of Dance & Drama (known in the industry as MADD) is located in Nottingham and was founded in 1967 by the principal Frances Clayton. This year it celebrates its 50th anniversary. In 1988 a three year Musical Theatre Diploma course was developed and accredited by the Council for Dance Education and Training. As well as a popular Summer School the college also offers additional courses; a One Year Foundation Musical Theatre Diploma and accredited evening courses in teacher training with the International Dance Teachers Association in classical ballet, tap, jazz and freestyle dance. The college have just designed a new One Year Post Graduate Musical Theatre Diploma Course which can be adapted to work on the students’ specific needs. For the young ones a junior school (evenings and weekends) benefits those between the ages of 3-18 years, holding recognised school status by the CDET.

The MADD ‘Century House’ headquarters is situated on the edge of the city of Nottingham on Carlton Hill. In addition to the 5000 sq ft headquarter facilities, the college has a 15,500 sq ft building opposite known as ‘The Factory’. This space also houses a 168 seat studio theatre. The Factory is also home to the ‘Nottingham Community Wardrobe’ which contains one of the biggest collections of theatrical costumes in the East Midlands with over 30,000 to choose from.

MADD prides itself on being a ‘College of Excellence’ providing one of the leading Musical Theatre Courses in the UK. In addition to the thirty members of staff the college is grateful for the presence of its guest practitioners from the industry including; directors, choreographers, playwrights, casting directors and agents. The MADD college patrons are Arlene Phillips, David Essex, David Wood, all OBEs and most recently top choreographer Anthony Van Laast MBE.

Frances Clayton

As MADD celebrates an impressive 50 years in the industry East Midlands Theatre reviewer and writer Phil Lowe went up to the college to talk to its enthusiastic founder and principal Frances Clayton. Frances was proud to be given a Carl Alan Theatre Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011on top of her Dance Teacher, Fellow and Examiner certificates. Also in 2011 Frances Clayton, affectionately known, by staff and pupils at MADD as Miss C, gained the Le Classique de Dance Professional Theatre Award.

Phil Lowe

Frances is very welcoming and understandably proud of the college’s fifty year successes. As we sit in her sunny and comfortable, award filled office, the stories just flow out of her. “Well, Phil I am always surprised and delighted that we are still here fifty years on after I started the college on a very small basis with a few young girls whose parents wanted me to teach them dance. Over the fifty years our college has grown and grown and eventually we got so big we moved to the current premises. Even now we are constantly busy and evolving.”

There is no denying Frances Clayton’s undying devotion to her college and the international students. She continues on the subject of the MADD summer school. “Right now we are looking at the International Summer School programme. On this short course we offer classes with proper West End performers and choreographers for juniors and seniors. The junior course is for the 7-11 year old students and the senior course is for the 12-18 year old students. It is pretty intense and runs this year from 26 July to 30 July. It covers musical theatre, dance, singing and acting and is accredited by the Council for Dance Education and Training. The International Summer School finishes with a show for parents and friends in our own on site theatre. As you can imagine it is very popular and quite demanding of the students. From our feedback they all seem to love it though! Especially the proud parents.”

Frances goes on to remind me that they offer children’s classes from 3-18 years of age in ballet, tap, commercial jazz, modern dance, musical theatre, freestyle, gymnastic dance, theatre craft and acting, in the evenings and weekends. This is on top of the one year Professional Musical Theatre Foundation Course. At the upmost of the game they have their three year Professional Musical Theatre Course that offers, on graduation, a Professional Musical Theatre Diploma and Full Equity membership. Frances informs me too, that anyone with a bias towards wishing to teach dance can also benefit from their evening courses in teacher training. Qualifications are available with the International Dance Teachers Association and students can gain practical teaching experience within the college’s Associate Children’s Theatre School. All in all, as Frances says: “the training throughout the college is by the professionals of today for the professionals of tomorrow!”

I ask the pertinent question of roughly how many of the graduating students go on to attain professional work. The answer is a very positive one from Frances. “Well, I would say, and Edward Nudd our course co-ordinator would concur because he follows and documents the successes of our students, that around 80% find professional work. We train them to be triple threats.”

Former MADD graduate Savanna Darnell.

“It is an all round training and offers opportunities across the spectrum of the entertainment field. Why train in London when you can train just as well and get the exposure and agents needed at MADD! Plus it is a lot cheaper to live in Nottingham. Did you know that when we started there was no such training north of the capital with the exception of Birmingham School of Drama? To establish a professional college here in Nottingham was my driving force but I am so grateful for all the massive help we have been given over the years by everyone who has ever been involved at MADD, in whatever manner.”

I mention that on all of my previous visits to the college; to the annual Nottingham Playhouse Gala and London Third Year showcases I had always found the students to be very professional and also lacking in snobbery. Very talented and very grounded would make a perfect description. Frances agreed.

“ We provide an all-round dance and drama training in a happy but disciplined atmosphere and one of our graduates recently said to me that he was astounded, during an audition for a premier Panto season, that a lot of the other auditionees had little discipline at the audition. Not surprisingly he got the job and became dance captain too. We have many successes like that: Jay McGuiness was the winner on Strictly Come Dancing in 2015 and then starred in Big.The Musical.

Amethyst Scarlett Gostlow-Crossley performing Cabaret at Potters.

Local performer Amethyst Scarlett Gostlow-Crossley went on to gain a year long contract at Potters Entertainment and is now headlining as a talented singer and dancer on a world cruise with Fred Olsen.

Amethyst Scarlett Gostlow-Crossley

We’ve had people in Starlight Express in Bochum, Germany. Rakesh Boury did Bend It Like Beckham in the West End, Britain’s Got Bhangra and We Will Rock You. Stephanie Summers was in The Tiger Who Came To Tea also in the West End and World Tour. Two of our graduates, Flori Mossi and Savanna Darnell have won acclaim with the Michael Jackson Thriller Live show and Jackson Williams was a dancer on the X-Factor and Ellie Goulding World Tour as well as dance captain on the closing ceremony of the UK Olympics.”

The list continues and seems as endless as Frances Clayton’s enthusiasms and demonstrable pride in her graduate and training students. “A few more that come to mind are Gareth Davis who has done really well as a choreographer including his work with Anthony Van Laast on Mamma Mia the film and as dance captain and assistant choreographer on the British Olympic and Paralympic opening ceremonies. Many of our students have worked at Disneyland Paris as performers. Two of our guys were in the Five Guys Named Moe tour and the excellent Vladimir Hub as worked internationally as well as in Ben Hur at the O2 Arena.”

Not only do the MADD students benefit from highly qualified resident tutors drawn from TV and theatre in all fields of performing but their creative education takes place outside of all those hard working classes that take place in state-of-the art studios complete with sprung floors, barres and mirrors. Much of their time is set aside for professional development. Frances tells me this is not the case in all dance and theatre colleges/schools. She concludes the fascinating interview with, “At MADD professional development is taught on a weekly basis over the three terms preparing students for entry into a competitive industry. We offer essential guidance and information on obtaining employment and maintaining employability, Equity membership, research relating to job opportunities and Spotlight presentation. We have guest workshops from directors and agents and specific provision is given for tax, insurance and accountancy as well as employment contracts and important background knowledge about funding and professional bodies. They think they come here to learn to sing, dance and act to a very high professional standard, and they do, but we also give them the best chance to get out there in the real ‘hard knocks’ world and get employment in their chosen creative fields. A good CV alone will not be enough. Our students are the best and we want the best for them. Of course I won’t be here in another fifty years but I hope that MADD will be.”

Book now for the MADD Gala showcase at Nottingham  Playhouse Fri 30th June – Sat Jul 1st. 7.30pm.

Written by Phil Lowe with special thanks to Simon Harper for arranging the interview.

Originally written for Sardines Magazine.

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