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New degree to tackle costume-making skills shortage in the performing arts

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Published date 30 March 2015

Royal Opera House, University of the Arts London (UAL) and South Essex College have formed a new partnership to deliver a BA (Hons) degree in Costume Construction, specifically to address the current shortage of people with high quality costume making skills.

Robin McGrorty and Mal Barton Photo by Sim Canetty-Clarke

The new degree course will focus on the cut and making of costumes for theatre, opera, film and TV with professionals from the Royal Opera House (ROH) working with the students on live briefs for new productions for both The Royal Opera and The Royal Ballet.

The students will be taught how to make costumes that are lightweight and flexible for Royal Ballet dancers to perform in, as well as costumes that are made to last many years as some productions remain in the ROH repertory for up to four decades. They will also learn how to make a range of different styles of costumes from leotards for contemporary ballets, to historically accurate costumes for opera productions set in specific periods of history.

The BA (Hons) Costume Construction degree will be validated by UAL and receive its first intake of students in September 2015. The course will be based at the new Bob and Tamar Manoukian Costume Centre currently being built at High House Production Park in Thurrock where the Royal Opera House Bob and Tamar Production Workshop is already based.

Alex Beard, Chief Executive of the Royal Opera House, said: ‘This course is a fantastic example of industry and higher education coming together to invest in young people, training them alongside the very best professionals in their field, and giving them skills that employers so desperately need. The skills the students will learn on this course will give them the foundation to work not only in opera and ballet, but also in theatre, film or fashion, expanding the job opportunities even wider for the graduates’.

Louisa Troughton 1 - Photo by Sim Canetty-Clarke

Angela O’Donoghue, South Essex College Principal and Chief Executive, said: “We are proud to be delivering this unique degree in Thurrock. It is wonderful that local people will benefit from such an outstanding opportunity. The partnership with the Royal Opera House is a superb example of how colleges and universities can respond to a shortage of skilled workers in a particular industry.”

Nigel Carrington, UAL Vice-Chancellor, said: “We’re delighted to be helping to provide this degree which will give students the vital skills to flourish in the performing arts industry. The UK creative industries are worth more than £76billion to the UK economy and we are proud to support them by helping to develop the creative workforce of the future.”

Modules over the three years will include hand sewing techniques, pattern cutting, garment construction and the history of costumes throughout the years, plus plenty of live brief opportunities and work experience placements.
As well as the degree course being taught from the new Bob and Tamar Manoukian Costume Centre, the building will also house more than 20,000 Royal Opera House costumes and wigs from productions in the ROH repertory. The historic costumes from the ROH Collection will also now be stored in the building and be used as a basis for part of the degree course focusing on costume preservation and conservation.

The Costume Centre is the latest development at the High House Production Park which is also home to Acme Artists’ Studios, who provide low-rent studio spaces for artists and the Backstage Centre, run by Creative & Cultural Skills, where young people are trained in backstage skills such as lighting and sound. The addition of the Costume Centre further confirms the High House Production Park as an international centre of excellence for the creative industries.

Photos by Sim Canetty-Clarke