Michaela Lewry, Scenic Carpentry Apprentice © 2019 ROH. Photograph by Sim Canetty-Clarke
Michaela Lewry, Scenic Carpentry Apprentice © 2019 ROH. Photograph by Sim Canetty-Clarke

Apprenticeships - Case Studies

Michaela Lewry, Scenic Carpentry

Where did you see the apprenticeship advertised?

I was searching for backstage theatre jobs and apprenticeships online and the Royal Opera House page came up.

What made you apply for the apprenticeship?

I read the job description for the carpentry apprentice position, and the case study for the current carpentry apprentice (along with the other apprentice case studies) and I thought it sounded amazing. I have always wanted to work in theatre, and I have also always loved doing creative projects and making things so doing a creative job such as scenic carpentry seemed perfect for me. Plus, the idea of being able to work and train at the same time ending up with a qualification sounded like a brilliant way to get into a new career.

Describe a ‘typical day’ as an apprentice at the Royal Opera House?

I know everyone says this, but that is because it is so true: there is no such thing as a ‘typical day’. Some days I will be helping to put together the metalwork for a set and cladding it in wood, other days I’ll be building smaller, more intricate pieces, or helping to refurbish shows that have come back into the workshop from storage, sometimes I help with general workshop maintenance and enjoy being taught various skills and how to use certain tools. That does not include the days I spend outside of my regular workplace, going to apprentice days, completing training, attending college, and chatting to young people about my job at career expos. Every day at the Royal Opera House is different and it keeps it fresh and exciting.

How do you find the workplace/college balance?

I attend college in blocks, meaning that I spend two weeks at a time at my college, every couple of months. Having my time broken up into blocks of work and college is great. It is refreshing to switch between them both, and I never have time to get bored of being at either place. Coming back to work after a college block is always interesting as I get to see what work has been done while I have been away, and get stuck in with new projects.

What do you enjoy most about your apprenticeship?

The people! All my co-workers in the workshop have been amazing at helping me settle in and feel like a real part of the team, rather than just ‘the new apprentice’. The variety of experience that they have between them means that I have so many opportunities to watch and learn new skills. I also get a number of opportunities to spend time with the apprentices from other departments, on apprentice days and various events and training days. It is lovely to get these chances to catch up with them and see what they have been learning in their different departments.

Is the apprenticeship what you expected?

Yes, and more! I knew I would be working and learning in the workshop and attending college, but I was not aware of quite how much I’d be involved in the work from the very beginning. It is a wonderful feeling to see something that you have helped to make be a part of a completed set for a show, and I’ve already been given so many opportunities to push myself and try out new skills. Before I started I felt a bit overwhelmed at the idea of working for the Royal Opera House, but I quickly realised how lovely and welcoming everyone is, and how great a work environment it is to be in.

What would you like to do after your apprenticeship is completed?

I’ve always loved the theatre, and so I would like to continue to work in theatre either as a scenic carpenter or stage carpenter, possibly in the West End. I would also love the opportunity to try out some set building work in film or TV.

What advice would you give to someone considering applying for an apprenticeship at the Royal Opera House?

Go for it! If you had told me a year ago that I would be in this position right now I would not have believed it, but here I am. It’s one of the best decisions I ever made, and I am so grateful for this chance to work in such an amazing place, so if you are considering it then absolutely go for it and apply.

Oliver Parker, Scenic Metalwork Apprentice © 2019 ROH. Photograph by Sim Canetty-Clarke
Oliver Parker, Scenic Metalwork Apprentice © 2019 ROH. Photograph by Sim Canetty-Clarke

Oliver Parker, Scenic Metalwork

Where did you see the apprenticeship advertised?

I found it on the www.gov.uk website in a list of engineering type apprenticeships, then read all the information on the Royal Opera House website.

What made you apply for the apprenticeship?

It seemed to be a very unique apprenticeship, plus it joined two of my interests: stage productions and making things. I found a few other apprenticeships which offered the chance to learn practical skills but there was something uniquely intriguing about building stuff for ballet and opera shows.

Describe a typical day as an apprentice at the Royal Opera House?

In terms of individual tasks there is no typical day. Some days I might be fitting together a load of frames, climbing all over some scenery with a spanner, and the next day I might not leave the welding bench. The main constant is the problem solving, finding the best way of fixing an issue. Also the tea breaks are strictly regular!

How do you find the workplace/college balance?

I have one day of college a week and four days in the workshop. I like this schedule as it means neither feels like they are dragging, if there is less to do for college there will be something to get stuck into at work, and vice versa.

What do you enjoy most about your apprenticeship?

The satisfaction of building things, being asked what I have been working on and being able to point at it is great, plus seeing the whole set together and being able to see even just a small part I worked on is fantastic. Also, the people I work with are great.

Is the apprenticeship what you expected?

I feel I have developed my metalworking skills much faster than I expected. I did not have any previous experience, but everyone in the workshop was very keen to teach me and quite quickly gave me lots of different things to do.

What would you like to do after your apprenticeship?

I am not sure yet. I know two of the previous metalwork apprentices still work for the Royal Opera House, one of them is now a stage engineer and the other a scenic metalworker. Another previous apprentice works for Delstar engineering, so I know there are plenty of options for me after the apprenticeship, and I’m quite excited for whatever I end up doing.

What advice would you give to someone considering applying for an apprenticeship at the Royal Opera House?

There is no need to be worried about a lack of experience. The point of the apprenticeship is to give you that experience and I cannot think of a better place to do it. So long as you have a genuine interest in at least some part of what goes on at the Royal Opera House, they’ll likely be quite keen to have you.

Oliver Parker, Scenic Metalwork Apprentice © 2019 ROH. Photograph by Sim Canetty-Clarke
Oliver Parker, Scenic Metalwork Apprentice © 2019 ROH. Photograph by Sim Canetty-Clarke

Oliver Parker, Scenic Metalwork

Where did you see the apprenticeship advertised?

I found it on the www.gov.uk website in a list of engineering type apprenticeships, then read all the information on the Royal Opera House website.

What made you apply for the apprenticeship?

It seemed to be a very unique apprenticeship, plus it joined two of my interests: stage productions and making things. I found a few other apprenticeships which offered the chance to learn practical skills but there was something uniquely intriguing about building stuff for ballet and opera shows.

Describe a typical day as an apprentice at the Royal Opera House?

In terms of individual tasks there is no typical day. Some days I might be fitting together a load of frames, climbing all over some scenery with a spanner, and the next day I might not leave the welding bench. The main constant is the problem solving, finding the best way of fixing an issue. Also the tea breaks are strictly regular!

How do you find the workplace/college balance?

I have one day of college a week and four days in the workshop. I like this schedule as it means neither feels like they are dragging, if there is less to do for college there will be something to get stuck into at work, and vice versa.

What do you enjoy most about your apprenticeship?

The satisfaction of building things, being asked what I have been working on and being able to point at it is great, plus seeing the whole set together and being able to see even just a small part I worked on is fantastic. Also, the people I work with are great.

Is the apprenticeship what you expected?

I feel I have developed my metalworking skills much faster than I expected. I did not have any previous experience, but everyone in the workshop was very keen to teach me and quite quickly gave me lots of different things to do.

What would you like to do after your apprenticeship?

I am not sure yet. I know two of the previous metalwork apprentices still work for the Royal Opera House, one of them is now a stage engineer and the other a scenic metalworker. Another previous apprentice works for Delstar engineering, so I know there are plenty of options for me after the apprenticeship, and I’m quite excited for whatever I end up doing.

What advice would you give to someone considering applying for an apprenticeship at the Royal Opera House?

There is no need to be worried about a lack of experience. The point of the apprenticeship is to give you that experience and I cannot think of a better place to do it. So long as you have a genuine interest in at least some part of what goes on at the Royal Opera House, they’ll likely be quite keen to have you.

James Spencer, Stage Engineering Apprentice © 2019 ROH. Photograph by Sim Canetty-Clarke
James Spencer, Stage Engineering Apprentice © 2019 ROH. Photograph by Sim Canetty-Clarke

James Spencer, Stage Engineering

Where did you see the apprenticeship advertised?

I found this apprenticeship on the internet when I was looking for an apprenticeship in fabrication/engineering.

What made you apply for the apprenticeship?

I enjoyed taking a double engineering at GCSE level and I knew I wanted to go into the fabrication/engineering sector. This apprenticeship jumped out at me because it had a great combination of college, leading to qualifications after three years and practical experience at the Royal Opera House, which is known worldwide for its opera and ballet productions.

Describe a ‘typical day’ as an apprentice at the Royal Opera House?

As a stage engineering apprentice there is no typical day. For example, one day I could be working with hydraulics under the stage, or on other days I could be making something for another department or a stage production, or I could also be maintaining an old stage set. I work all over the Royal Opera House from the workshop to the new Linbury Theatre or in the rehearsal rooms for the main stage. However, there are some daily jobs I do, for example getting orders from the delivery room, general upkeep of the workshop, maintaining machines and receiving steel deliveries. Any spare time I have I practice my welding skills.

How do you find the workplace/college balance?

I find it quite easy to balance workplace and college as I go to college once a week. I have set deadlines every week and I am able to speak to my teachers once a week if I need help. However, for the first few weeks I found it tiring coming home from work and trying to do my work for college, but this was just because I was getting used to working a full day.

What do you enjoy most about your apprenticeship?

The most enjoyable part about the apprenticeship is seeing something on a plan and then watching it being made and then used in a production. It always gives me a sense of pride. I also enjoy working with my team as we are a small department and work closely together. I get the best advice and guidance and they are never too busy to help.

Is the apprenticeship what you expected?

I expected to be doing a fabrication job based mainly in the workshop, but I have been able to work all over the building. I did not expect I would be learning about hydraulics or to be learning skills on my college course such as CAD and electrics.

What would you like to do after your apprenticeship is completed?

After my three-year apprenticeship I will be fully trained as a stage engineer and with my experience and qualifications I will be in a good position to apply for any stage engineering job. That could be at the Royal Opera House to gain more experience working independently or any other Opera House or theatre in the UK or around the world, such as the Sydney Opera House or Broadway in New York. Being trained and taught by the best people in industry I would feel fully confident to take on a stage engineering job.

What advice would you give to someone considering applying for an apprenticeship at the Royal Opera House?

I can really recommend the Royal Opera House for an apprenticeship. They offer the best training and people who are happy to go out of their way to help you. If you do not think university is for you, but you want to learn a skill, an apprenticeship here is a great option. You can gain crucial work experience while studying at college – it would be a great start to your career path.

Hosanna Johnson, Technical Theatre Apprentice © 2019 ROH. Photograph by Sim Canetty-Clarke
Hosanna Johnson, Technical Theatre Apprentice © 2019 ROH. Photograph by Sim Canetty-Clarke

Hosanna Johnson, Technical Theatre

Where did you see the apprenticeship advertised?

I saw it advertised on a promotional email from TheatreCraft. I went to a backstage theatre event a few months before I applied for my apprenticeship. When I was at TheatreCraft, I didn’t go to the table for the Royal Opera House and the apprenticeships they do, so it was a good thing that I saw that email.

What made you apply for the apprenticeship?

When I was thinking about what I wanted to do when I left school, an apprenticeship was at the bottom of my list because I thought it would only be for working in banking or media for example. I had never seen an apprenticeship in theatre so I was not looking for one. At school I felt like I had to pick just one path or subject to take further and for me that was difficult because I liked performing just as much as I liked backstage work. I tried an acting path and applied for drama schools and did the auditioning process but I realised I did not like the process and the rejection that I received after working so hard. I was seriously considering looking into backstage work as what I could do next or to have a gap year to figure it all out. When I saw the Technical Theatre Apprenticeship, I thought this was what I needed to be doing. There was no question, I knew that I wanted to work in theatre, it was just the matter of what area in which I was going to be working in. Now I get to eat from a smorgasbord of theatre areas and it is great.

Describe a ‘typical day’ as an apprentice at the Royal Opera House?

Everyone says there is never a typical day at work which is probably true for them. For me, I really mean it because I move to a different department every few weeks and that always creates a huge difference, not just to my day, but to everything. I really like the different ways of working because I get to learn new things from different areas around the whole building. I feel lucky that I get to see almost everything. Even on a daily basis, in one department the days are varied because the Royal Opera House produce two or three different shows a day and there are different shows coming in and more leaving so apprentices are working on a range of operas and ballets regularly.

How do you find the workplace/college balance?

I quite like doing college work as I came straight out of school and I find it is quite comforting to have a bit of the familiar alongside working at the Royal Opera House. I have an assessor that uses various methods to take evidence of my work. My college work is, in other words, a means of gathering evidence that shows what I am doing and that I am continuing to learn. She can collect this evidence through my research, written work or presentations. The best method is through observation which is filming me doing my work which count as evidence for college. College helps me to learn about what I am doing and why I am doing it and that can only make my work better.

What do you enjoy most about your apprenticeship?

I really enjoy moving around the different departments of the Royal Opera House. I find it super exciting and it always keeps things interesting. Even simply having to wake up earlier or stay in later or work on a weekend or have a day off on a Thursday is fun and new. Because I move, I get to work with lots of different people. I like the variety of it all.

Is the apprenticeship what you expected?

I did not know what to expect or how I would find it. I thought it was a right choice but working in such a big organization was hard to imagine. I thought it would be all go, and I would be thrown into a baptism of fire, and I was preparing for that. At the same time, I was looking forward to the hustle and bustle but I was eased into my first few weeks. This was probably better so I could figure it all out, although I wanted to be working by the stage straight away. I worked on stage a few months in, and it was great. That’s where my expectations were met, I loved being part of the performances especially when I am by the stage-side  with the singers, dancers, stage managers, stage crew, the LX and project teams.

What would you like to do after your apprenticeship is completed?

I want to be working in theatre with a clearer understanding of how everything works, and I would like to have figured which areas suit me best. I still have a quite a few departments to visit so I have not made any commitments to one area yet, but I have been enjoying figuring out which areas I like most so far.

What advice would you give to someone considering applying for an apprenticeship at the Royal Opera House?

There’s never any harm in applying for something. There’s nothing to lose and always something to gain, even if that is the experience of being rejected. I was rejected by five drama schools in a few months before I changed direction and applied to the apprenticeship and what I learnt is that it is important not to give up trying. Also, the application process may seem daunting with lots of questions that need thought-out answers, so give it a few weeks to fill out. There is no need to worry if you do not have much experience because the apprenticeship is there to give you that. Be willing to learn and watch theatre. Look for whatever workshops, courses or experience you can find because it will help with your application, as well as give a you a little bit more certainty in what is right for you and your future.

Harvey Thompson, Learning and Participation Apprentice © 2018 ROH. Photographed by Sim Canetty-Clarke
Harvey Thompson, Learning and Participation Apprentice © 2018 ROH. Photographed by Sim Canetty-Clarke

Where did you see the apprenticeship advertised?

Essentially my mum discovered this apprenticeship first and she told me about it. I looked it up and it was on the www.gov.uk website.

What made you apply for the apprenticeship?

I was not ready to go to University. It just was not right for me once I had finished college. However, I wanted to continue working and learning in an area that I was passionate about (and the fact that I get paid too is also a bonus).

Can you describe a ‘typical day’ as an apprentice at the Royal Opera House?

Typical day? That does not exist and I guess you can only truly understand that once you start working here. Each day offers you something brand new and you are always on your feet. Whether that is transforming a Church into a venue for an Insight event or decorating part of the Opera House so that it looks like a scene from The Nutcracker, the creativity is endless.

How do you find the workplace/college balance?

I love it, carrying out both work and college work together ensures I am getting the best experience possible. I go to college once every two months but I still have assignments to be doing in between that links in with my placement work which is brilliant.

What do you enjoy most about your apprenticeship?

The people. Everyone is brilliant. From the creative people in my office that each have very different backgrounds and experience with the creative arts in general – not just opera and ballet – to the apprentices who cover a range of ages but each of us are just as passionate about our apprenticeship as the other. It is brilliant. Being in a place that’s just bursting with creativity and passion is amazing too; it makes everything easier and makes projects feel bigger and better. Also, the responsibility and trust that is placed upon me when working is great because I am able to just get on with things whilst being treated like an adult at the same time. It is a good feeling especially coming straight from college.

Is the apprenticeship what you expected?

Absolutely not. It’s so much better. I do not really have an idea of what I expected this apprenticeship to be like, in all honesty but it definitely was not as fast-paced or exciting as it has turned out to be – which I love. I am constantly doing something new or meeting interesting people. It is brilliant!

What would you like to do after your apprenticeship is completed?

After my apprenticeship, I would like to continue working in the community arts area and also set up my own inclusive performing arts company or something with music.

What advice would you give to someone considering applying for an apprenticeship at the Royal Opera House?

DO IT! Even if you don’t get the job, at least you tried.

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