My first year experience in BA (Hons) Stage Management

Jasper Mattel joined Royal Birmingham Conservatoire in 2019 and is currently studying BA (Hons) Stage Management. They tell us how interesting it was to work with the Strictly Arts team for their spring season project; what you shouldn't forget to bring if you're living away from home and what advice they would give to students starting their first year at RBC.

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What were your expectations before starting your first year at university?

I thought I would be doing a lot of practical work and a couple of shows during the year - both were definitely understatements! This year alone I’ve worked on five shows and I’m also helping extensively on another six across six venues throughout the city. We spend a huge amount of time in rehearsals and production weeks (as well as the lectures) are very practical-based, focusing on things such as knot-tying for theatre or compiling prompt copies.

How did you find the first few months of university?

It was difficult, but I loved it so much. Within three weeks of starting the course we were in our first production week which was an exhausting, but amazing, experience. It meant that there was a lot to learn in a short space of time. However, it’s surprising how fast everything becomes instinctual and you’re soon able to follow what the older years and tutors are doing and even do the jobs yourself.

What has been the most fun/interesting project you have worked on?

I think it would have to be my spring season show Born Bad, written by Debbie Tucker Green. It was so interesting to get to work with the Strictly Arts team and observe how they worked. The production encouraged the actors to push themselves as far as they could and it really was a fascinating experience because of how much work they put into it.

There was a lot of physical work in the piece with minimal props/set and the way the lighting and sound was designed really complemented it. I was the lighting operator and programmer for the production and I loved it because it was really complex, but that made it all the more interesting to programme! This prompted me to start researching lighting programming in my own time as I enjoyed it so much.

Once we were running dress rehearsals, I got the chance to see how well it fit with what the actors were doing and when combined with the quietly eerie sound design, the whole production really shone through. It’s one of those shows I’ll remember for a very long time.

What is the community like in your school?

The School of Acting has one of the closest school communities I’ve ever been in. People frequently say “hi” in the corridors and I feel like there’s a lot of respect between the different departments for what everyone contributes to each production. When we’re both in and out of shows, there’s a real sense of us all working towards a common goal and having different things that we can do to get there together.

Are there any projects/trips/modules you are particularly looking forward to in your second year?

I’m definitely looking forward to most my Deputy Stage Managing (DSM) allocation. It’s the career I want in the future and I’m ready to transfer what I’ve already learnt from stage managing a workshop this year, to a show for public audiences. I’m excited to get to work with the actors and to prove to myself that I can work under intense pressure and that it’s something I could genuinely do in the industry. I really want to learn as much as I can during the process and I know I’m ready to take that next step up.

Is studying at university much different to college/sixth form? If so/if not, why?

I think studying at university is definitely a lot different compared to sixth form. I feel like at uni there’s an enhanced focus on the specific subject, as opposed to an overview of several things at once. All of our tutors have worked in the industry for many years and have a lot of knowledge to share with us. This is great if something comes up when you’re in theatre as they have likely encountered a similar situation. There’s also more of a focus on practical learning than in sixth form and I’m having more fun whilst also taking on additional responsibility, which is manageable.

What advice would you give to students who are starting university soon?

I would say that however much you’re worrying, you will be fine and you will make friends – it’ll surprise you how quick it happens! Join a society (I recommend Burlesque, but I’m biased!) so you have something to focus on that isn’t just the course you’re studying and don’t be scared to use your personal tutor when you need to. Also, don’t forget to bring a saucepan (like I did) if you’re living away from home!

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