Colaiste Stiofan Naofa combines music and theatre in new course

Versatility in the performing arts is essential in the current economic climate, says Chris Ahern, head of the performing arts department at Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa (CSN) in Cork.

Colaiste Stiofan Naofa combines music and theatre in new course

Because of cuts to teaching staff and an increase in the pupil to teacher ratio, CSN has to do more with less. The college is launching a new PLC (Post Leaving Certificate) course called the performing arts course from Sept 16.

“Music is very strong at CSN, as is dance. We also have theatre studies. The idea is that the music and dance courses will both stand alone but we will take elements of them and put them into our theatre course. For want of a better name, what we’re introducing is musical theatre.”

Ahern says CSN will be taking on more students despite the drop in staff members. “We have the expertise. We’re trying to utilise it more effectively.”

Theatrical stalwart Marian Wyatt is the director of the new course, having headed up theatre studies at CSN over the years. Successful graduates of CSN include singer Mick Flannery; actors Michael Fassbender, Charlie Murphy (Love/Hate) and Conor Lovett, as well as the band O Emperor and West End dancer Richard Murphy.

Ahern says that CSN’s latest initiative is based on the logic that it will make actors more employable. “On Broadway and in the West End, actors are expected to be able to sing and count the bars in a piece as well as count the beats in dance. If we can equip actors with those skills, they’ll have the opportunity to be more expressive on stage. It will benefit all of them.”

There is big demand for the new FETAC Level 5 course, which has 30 places. Ahern acknowledges the high level of artistic and theatrical activity in the city, saying that it reminds him of the recession-blighted 1980s when venues like the Ivernia Theatre and the Triskel Arts Centre were very active. “It has all come around again. To see the Cork Opera House filling out for Maria De Buenos Aires and Grease during the summer shows the demand for musical theatre.”

The advantage of the performing arts course is that students can sample a bit of everything. “They can then decide after the year which direction they want to go in. We certainly don’t promise to make stars out of students but we will give them variety.”

Ahern points out that, as with many industries at the moment, people will have to be prepared to travel in search of work. “Most of our graduates go to Dublin or further afield, with dancers generally going to the West End. People know that work is seasonal and contractual. It’s not synonymous with the stable regular job. I think those days have gone by the board.”

It is possible to pick up work in Cork in the performing arts. “With the Opera House production of Grease, there was a whole summer of work for people. A few of our students of dance and theatre got work on the show. People who tend to get most work in theatre are the technical people.”

Ahern has been heading up the performing arts department for 12 years. “I’ve noticed that people are way more professional now in their attitudes. Dance, for example, is a very disciplined pursuit that requires rigorous training. With music, people know they can’t get away with the whole rock’n’roll notion of touring and partying.”

The performing arts course is all based on practical exercises, with regular master workshops from artists working in different disciplines. It’s a recipe for a varied diet of performance which, hopefully, will lead to employment in the arts.

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