Students and teachers wake up to the news their school will close for good

Lisa R. Parker

A drama school in Wigan announced that it has closed – leaving students, staff and the whole acting industry reeling.

The Academy of Live and Recorded Arts (ALRA) has branches in Wigan, which is the North campus, and in Wandsworth, London, which is the South campus. The school released a statement on its website on Monday (4 April), announcing its sudden closure.

Teaching and activities at ALRA have been brought to a close, and student records will be transferred to St Mary’s University or Arts University Bournemouth. All teachers and staff at the school have been made redundant, with 29 permanent and 16 fixed-term jobs now gone.

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The school offered BA, MA and Diploma courses in acting, as well as a course in directing. ALRA alumni include comedian Miranda Hart, Chewing Gum actor Robert Lonsdale and Harriet Bibby, who plays Summer Spellman in Coronation Street.

Bosses say the school was forced to close for financial reasons A statement released by ALRA reads: “The Academy of Live and Recorded Arts (ALRA) is no longer able to continue to teach students and will be closed as of Monday 4th April 2022.

Google maps
ALRA North campus in Wigan

“In October 2021 the ALRA Board, after taking advice, decided to seek a new owner to ensure the college’s long-term future through an intensive sales process. Unfortunately, after thorough talks with interested parties, this was not possible to achieve. As a result, the ALRA Board sought other options and ultimately resolved to cease teaching students and working with partners, are providing appropriate support to students to find alternative study options.”

A photo of the ALRA North campus in Wigan
ALRA North campus in Wigan is based at the Pier, Trencherfield Mill on Heritage Way

Students, staff and alumni from ALRA have shared their feelings with the Manchester Evening News.

Lewis Fernandez, from Manchester, delivers film workshops for ALRA students. The editor and colourist said he only found out via Twitter that he had lost his job.

He said: “I am shocked that ALRA have closed so suddenly and my heart goes out to students and staff. The students have such a fierce passion and tenacity to create and have made my time as staff a pleasure.

“My colleagues have been working extremely hard to keep things afloat for as long as they have and I know they’ll go on to do great things. It saddens me that more notice wasn’t given to anyone, but I know and trust that the students will be given all the support they need to finish their degrees.”

Meanwhile, Hannah Ellis Ryan, a teacher at ALRA, taught Contextual Studies from the start of this year. She said: “It is such a devastating and shocking blow to the whole industry – but mostly for the current students. Especially those who have had nothing but a pandemic and now this sudden closure.

“One positive has been the outpouring of support from those all over the industry. I’ve heard a lot about a showcase being staged, agents opening their books, venues offering support and much more. I will support students however I can, including placements on shows, advice, coffee sessions and anything in between.”

Additionally, Charis Morlotti, 20, from Glasgow, had almost completed an acting course at the Wigan campus.

They said: “I’ve really enjoyed my time at ALRA. I saw they were really inclusive with trans and LGBTQ+ identities, so I thought it seemed like a really nurturing place.

A photo of Charis Morlotti
Charis Morlotti, 20, an acting student at ALRA North

“I woke up to the news on Monday morning and it was a massive shock, I felt empty. My course-mates and I worked so hard to get here. Some of us had moved countries to study here.

“So the fact that it’s now gone, it’s just gut-wrenching. I really do feel for the faculty who have been made redundant.

“I was banking on studying at ALRA. I will have to get in touch with other drama schools and tell them that I don’t have anywhere to go from here. Everyone has been so supportive on social media, which is testament to how loving people are in this industry.”

Elizabeth Green, 22, a third-year student at ALRA South, described the situation as “very stressful”.

She said: “I woke up on Monday morning to my flatmate running into my room and saying, ‘the school is closed’. I thought it was an April Fool’s prank.

A photo of Elizabeth Green
Elizabeth Green, a current student on an acting course at ALRA South

“The school is shutting us down and we are having to save everything from our emails onto OneDrive. It’s a massive knock, especially for neuro-divergent students.

“We had a week-long stage combat course, our dissertation projects and shows that are meant to go on. We want to finish training and get our degrees. Not being able to do our shows means we’re missing out on getting exposure from agents.

“That’s our biggest fear. Our teachers at ALRA have been just as f****d over as we have.”

A photo of Eve Lamb
Eve Lamb, an acting student at ALRA South

Elizabeth’s course-mate, Eve Lamb, 22, added: “We’ve spent three years working so hard, physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s so draining.

“We pay about £14,000 a year, when other drama schools charge £9,000 a year. Only last week, my housemate got an email, asking for tuition fee payment.

“There are over 30 of us who are very close-knit and we haven’t even said ‘goodbye’ or ‘well done’ to each other. We’ve all just been chucked out.

“It’s a beautiful thing to normally have support from ALRA and to have the chance to grow as an artist, but all of that has been stopped.”

After the school announced its closure, support has poured in online from industry professionals, actors, theatre directors, agents and former alumni. ‘ALRA’ was even a number one trending topic on Twitter on Monday.

Paul Woodward, 35, from Skelmersdale, is offering a handful of second-year students the chance to have headshots and reels taken, free of charge. A 2019 graduate of the MA acting course at ALRA North, he is the director of Manchester company Ignite Films.

Photo of Paul Woodward
Paul Woodward

Paul said: “ALRA North was life changing for me. Having a London-style drama school in Wigan, it gives people like me a chance that we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.

It’s absolutely devastating for the North West to lose this school. We might miss out on a lot of Northern talent now.

It’s a horrible day for ALRA staff and students, but they won’t be left alone. I have seen hundreds of people offering support, and I am not sure there are other industries where people would come together like the creatives have today.”

A photo of Google Maps
ALRA North campus in Wigan

ALRA North alumnus Rick Bithell co-founded Troublehouse Theatre company in Manchester, fresh from graduating.

He said: “To help ALRA students affected by its closure, we will be using our resources, including our recent appointment as associate artists with the Oldham Coliseum, to provide any opportunities that we can.

“We’re currently speaking to contacts in the industry about ways that we can collaborate to help preserve and demonstrate the hard work of ALRA’s students, be it in the form of a showcase or a production that an invited audience can attend.”

Finally, St Mary’s University in Twickenham, London, is helping ALRA students transition to an alternative higher education prvider.

A spokesperson for St Mary’s University said, “We are saddened to hear of the closure of ALRA. We are working closely with colleagues across the sector to help students and applicants transfer to institutions where they can complete their programme of study, or begin their higher education journeys this autumn.

“This includes Rose Bruford College who have offered a place to all ALRA students. Students at ALRA have been contacted to provide guidance and reassurance and they can seek support with us.”

If you are a current or prospective student at ALRA, here’s a list of useful resources:

  • Rose Bruford College is assisting students from ALRA to complete their courses. Visit their website here.
  • A student support helpline has been established at St Mary’s University. Contact them at [email protected] or call 020 8240 2394
  • MFA Linklater students have a separate helpline at the Arts University Bournemouth. Contact them at 01202 363325 or [email protected]
  • The creative industry union Equity has created a thread on Twitter to help ALRA students and staff, which can be viewed .
  • Troublehouse Theatre is creating a gallery on their website for ALRA’s current third year students. Contact them here.
  • Paul Woodward is offering free reels and headshots for second-year students. Contact him on Twitter here.
  • Hannah Ellis Ryan is offering advice and support. Contact her on Twitter here.
  • Midlands-based organisation Leadies Collective is offering tailored advice, support, contacts and resourcess for ALRA students. Contact them here.

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