Motley Theatre Design Course is closing down: what are we going to do about it? 

Convener(s): Ellan            

Participants: various

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

What can we do in the short term? 

  • express support, spread the word, join the facebook group and visit the website, add a testimonial – the alumni are collecting testimonials from directors, producers, etc who’ve worked with alumni, as well as alumni themselves.


The course has to maintain its individuality

Be open to anyone.

Value the individual artist

Could it be run in the same way the Birkbeck Course is set up?

Be part of a university but not have to have grades and assessments? Can theatre challenge the current academic set-up? – probably not!  A former student of the Drama Centre talked about what happened when that was absorbed into an institution – tutors lost control, were forcibly retired, course seems to have changed for the worse, less rigorous, less involved with the industry?

Alison and Ashley have taken it to this level, now someone else needs to step up and take it forward to the next level, find a new model for running it while keeping the essential ethos. 

Could we keep the studio open next year even if the course isn’t running?  Keep it as a workshop, drop-in studio, ex-students etc can come in and work, keep the space and the Motley community alive even if the course is lying fallow for a year.  A space for peer mentoring.

We could maintain the energy and the name this way, but it still needs leader(s).

Keep the space going, and the leadership will emerge eventually – the will is there.

At the moment there is no one specific crisis which we can address, more a combination of circumstances, so it’s difficult to know how to progress – hopefully the situation will become clearer once the trustees have had their meeting; and hopefully at that meeting they’ll be impressed by the huge amount of support for Motley – facebook group etc..

A clear public statement needs to be made.

The SBTD – are they aware? Are they doing anything about this?

What about the SOLT?  They have money, they support young producers via the Stage 1 bursary, might they be able to help?

This is not simply a funding issue – who will step into Ali and Ash’s shoes?

Don’t have to look at it as a crisis – it’s an opportunity to restructure, and solve some of the problems that Motley’s had.

We need to value vocational training more.

Motley is special because of the amount of skill-sharing from industry practitioners – if it closes, there’s nothing else like it to replace it; many of the tutors work for free, many only teach at Motley; if it closes, they’ll all carry on designing etc, they won’t be passing their skills on to designers at other institutions.

Why doesn’t the industry engage more with what it wants from new talent?

Many educational institutions aren’t engaging with the industry they’re supposed to be training people for.

Is Motley overburdened with the weight of its past?  Do we need to be more cold and unsentimental?  - but perhaps that’s what makes it different, why it hasn’t been subverted and compromised and turned into just another design course.

Re-consider the model of Motley – but who’s going to lead that process?

If the Motley manifesto is changed, it becomes just another design course; there are already more designers entering the profession than there are jobs for them.

What is it that is unique about Motley?:

  • approach to text, different from many other places, ability to have the conversation with the director, think like a director..
  • all teachers are practicing professionals first, teachers second
  • industry links
  • graduate employment record
  • size
  • independence
  • non-academic entry criteria, un-graded, non-accredited

Part of the ethos of Motley is giving: tutors give their time for free, friends of Motley donate books, equipment etc – will the closure of Motley affect the spirit of giving, of philanthropy within the industry?

Is it wrong to expect those who run the course to juggle that with their careers?

Could a better balance be created between the two things?  If the course leaders were paid more, and could afford to spend more time on the course?  More money for an administrator?

Directors are able to use Motley projects as R&D periods for their own work, in a similar way to drama schools and directing courses. 

The current model doesn’t work, it’s unsustainable. 

If Motley is discontinued as a training institution, could it continue in some other form, perhaps as a bursary or internship with a company or a designer?  Something like Alison’s at Stoke – the only thing like that that still exists is the RSC internship scheme, there should be more training schemes that offer opportunities for graduate designers to learn on the job.

The industry needs to take more responsibility for the training of young designers.

We should also celebrate the training that it gives you to go on and do other things outside of the theatre industry – alumni say the skills and experience they get from Motley benefit them for the rest of their lives. 

Clarity, communication:  What is the problem? What does Motley NEED?

Why does the industry still need Motley? What is its USP?  What needs to change and what needs to be maintained?

How can it change with the times, as the industry changes?

What will the industry lose if Motley closes? 

Part of what’s special about it is that it has a sort of ‘underground’ feel, but that’s also part of the problem. 

Keep some form of momentum or it will die – if it’s quiet for even a short time, it’ll lose its place in the industry – try to maintain the space and the community in some form.

The effects of Motley closing won’t be felt now, but five or ten years hence when there are no new Motley designers coming fresh into the industry. 

Rather than being absorbed into an academic institute, could Motley become part of a theatre?  Somewhere that has money, space, an administrative framework to run the course while the teachers get on with teaching.  Apparently there was some conversation about this with the National, but they pulled out when they realised they weren’t likely to make any money from it.  Greedy – they’re subsidised, they’re our NATIONAL THEATRE – don’t they have a duty to nurture young artists without trying to make money out of them?!  Someone suggested the Old Vic – apparently they have lots of money, and they already run the new voices scheme, so have an interest in developing emerging artists.

Need to work out who would benefit from having Motley in their building…