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Critics’ choice: University course to coach new generation of theatre critics

THE art of becoming an international theatre critic is the subject of a new undergraduate programme at the University of Chichester.

Musical Theatre Critique and Arts Journalism, launched at the institution this year, is the first of its kind in the UK to feature guest lectures from the industry’s leading writers.

The innovative module, which is part of a wider joint honours degree in Musical Theatre, has been backed by renowned critic Mark Shenton, below centre, an associate editor of national publication The Stage who will feature for the series.

He said: "As the world of theatre criticism democratises across the internet, so that anyone who has an opinion has an opportunity to express it, the role of the professional arts journalist is changing.

“Critics retain an unmatched authority and can provide the theatre with both a champion cheerleader and also fearless watchdog.

“I will amplify these thoughts in my guest lectures and look forward to contributing to this pioneering course at University of Chichester."

From left to right - course leader Andrew Wright, theatre critic Mark Shenton, and associate lecturer Carl Woodward

The module already boasts an experienced roster of speakers including famed Guardian theatre critic Michael Billington and Mark Fisher, a writer for Variety magazine as well as a series of national newspapers.

It is embedded within the institution’s BA joint (Hons) in Musical Theatre which itself includes masterclasses from guest lecturers of the West End, who help to prepare the students for specialist roles either on-stage or behind-the-scenes of national productions.

Course leader Andrew Wright, a senior lecturer for Musical Theatre at Chichester, said: “This is something of a nationally-unique module within university education in the UK.

“Through the lectures, which include input from some of the most prolific theatre critics in the country, our students will gain a significant foothold within the industry once they graduate.

“Ultimately we want to help them to prepare for their own career in musical theatre whether that is on stage or writing their own critiques and reviews in national publications.”

Musical Theatre rehearsal at the University of Chichester

The module itself is based on the innovative Hampshire-based programme Young Critics which was created by former actor Carl Woodward, now an associate lecturer in Musical Theatre at the University of Chichester.

The scheme, based at the Theatre Royal in Winchester, was conceived to help aspiring actors develop as critics using new media landscapes – including Twitter and Facebook – to ensure they stand out within the largely saturated industry.

Mr Woodward said: “Our collaboration with guest lecturers such as Mark Shenton, who is one of the foremost critics in the UK, and our close association with the Chichester Festival Theatre ensures that our students have the opportunities to learn from the best in the business.

“The industry has changed beyond recognition in the last decade so it important that graduates have the transferable skills necessary to access the other areas of musical theatre.

“It is also essential that they understand how to articulate a response to their critics, particularly as many performers are faced with near-instantaneous reviews after each show.”

The Producers - Musical Theatre students University of Chichester

Applications for the BA in (Hons) Musical Theatre at the University of Chichester are now being accepted.

To find out more about the Musical Theatre Critique and Arts Journalism module visit www.chi.ac.uk/music.

Alternatively for more about the BA joint (Hons) in Musical Theatre at the institution contact course leader Andrew Wright at a.wright@chi.ac.uk.