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No two days the same: What life is like as a Royal Opera House apprentice

Apprentices get vital hands-on experience in a number of our backstage departments including Lighting, Wigs and Make-up, and Scenic Art.

By Lizzi Easterbrook (Content Producer (Learning and Participation))

9 March 2017 at 10.24am | 1 Comment

The relationship between apprentices and master craftsmen runs throughout Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: Cobbler Hans Sachs is training David not only in his craft of shoe-making but also in the art of singing.

Focus on apprentices at the Royal Opera House isn't just limited to the action on the stage, however. We offer a range of opportunities for immersion in teams across the Royal Opera House, supporting departments including Learning and Participation, Wigs and Make-up and Scenic Metal Work. The idea behind our apprentice scheme echoes the central themes of Wagner’s opera: the importance of skills and the value of the arts.

When you attend any production, you'll see our apprentices' work on stage. Romy Loughman, our first year Scenic Art Apprentice has been working on Die Meistersinger and has found it 'incredibly satisfying seeing her work on stage. There is a special collaboration across departments so it feels amazing to know that you have been part of it’, she says. She thrives on the variety of the job, working on a cloth for The Nutcracker one day, then perfecting the details of Die Meistersinger's huge set the next.

Similarly, Mel Wells, who is an apprentice in the Lighting department, has enjoyed turning her hand to a number of different areas. 'The only thing that remains the same each day is arriving, and breaks for lunch and dinner’, she says.

Mel will be part of the lighting team on Die Meistersinger, responsible for checking everything is working before each performance, from the smallest lamp to the scrollers changing the colours on stage. She's even had the chance to control the theatre's main spotlights for a performance, during a recent Nutcracker Schools' Matinee.

Mel has also had the thrill of being on stage during a performance (albeit unseen by the audience) when she took a lighting stick on stage during The Nutcracker.

For her, the apprentice programme has been a major life change – not just professionally but also personally, she moved from Blackpool to London three days before she started with the Royal Opera House. She is incredibly grateful to the Bolton Octagon who gave her freelance work after she left college feeling out of her depth. Thanks to her experiences at the Royal Opera House and in Bolton, she has gained confidence as well as experience.

In Die Meistersinger, other than David and Hans Sachs, we don’t see the apprentices interacting with their Masters, but at the Royal Opera House, our apprentices each have a mentor, as well as being supported by the whole department and our apprenticeships team.

Romy comments about how much she appreciates the first-hand experience and support from people at the top of their profession: ‘The whole department have supported me and their advice is like gold-dust’.

Similarly, Richard Butler, the ladies' costume workshop apprentice, comments that ‘it’s been amazing to have been coached through the process. I’m learning so much but with a lot of support too – not like at school or college where you have to support yourself’. Richard created one of the suits for Magdalene in Die Meistersinger and worked on the chorus costumes. He says that ‘it’s always great seeing your work on stage but quite nerve-wracking too’.

In Act I of Die Meistersinger, David is surprised that Walther confesses that he is not a trained poet, singer or scholar, and queries how he can ever become a Mastersinger without this background. We side with Walther, and are looking for aptitude, enthusiasm and personality rather than years of experience.

The scheme has offered our apprentices the chance to hone their skills on-the-job and gain a qualification while being paid. Their passion and energy shine through – as does the quality of their work. As Romy states, ‘it’s what you put into it to get the most out of it’.

Watch out for all our apprentices' contributions in Die Meistersinger and all our productions.

The next recruitment round for apprentices at the Royal Opera House will open in early May 2017.

Apprenticeships at the Royal Opera House are generously supported by the Derek Butler Trust, Jasper Conran OBE, the Gordon Foundation and Thurrock Borough Council

By Lizzi Easterbrook (Content Producer (Learning and Participation))

9 March 2017 at 10.24am

This article has been categorised Off stage and tagged apprentice, apprentices, apprenticeship, jobs, learning, Learning & Participation, National Apprenticeship Week, training

This article has 1 comment

  1. Theresa Magee responded on 10 March 2017 at 2:31pm Reply

    Good luck to the apprentices and everyone involved with Die Meistersinger for tomorrow's opening.Looking forward to seeing it on 28th March.

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