News: First Ever Degree In Panto Launched By Staffordshire University

To mark Panto Day 2021 Staffordshire University has announced, in association with the Wilkes Academy of Performing Arts, they have launched the worlds first ever degree in Pantomime. The news comes with the backing of some of the the biggest names in the buisness.

The masters degree, called The MA Contemporary Pantomime Practice, launches in September 2022, with the emphasis of the MA strongly vocational, providing formal industry training and careers networking through placements and work experience. Students will examine pantomime through a 21st century lens, while the course will also offer hyper-personalised learning routes for students to suit their interests – be it becoming a panto dame or a director.

It’s estimated that more than 260 professional pantomimes are staged in the UK each year, generating nearly £63m in revenue annually. Money that secures a venues funding to support them for the rest of the year, yet there has never been formal training for it.

Associate Professor of Acting and Directing at Staffordshire University Robert Marsden, who is currently directing his 27th pantomime in Halifax, said: “Pantomime is unique – the style of performing and all that goes with it is very difficult. There is a perceived lack of formal training, mentoring and meaningful developmental opportunities for employment in this specialist art form. Training is informal, traditions are inherited or orally passed down and most pantomime performers are left to learn on the job. The reality is that producers won’t risk casting inexperienced performers, so formal training opportunities are badly needed.”

Jonathan Wilkes, Principal of Wilkes Academy, is currently starring in his 17th pantomime at the Regent Theatre in Stoke. He said: “We are so excited to be launching this new degree with Staffordshire University. Pantomime is an incredibly important part of British culture which brings people together and is loved across all ages. It has been a big part of my life and I’m looking forward to passing on my knowledge and skills to support the next generation of panto professionals. At Wilkes Academy, we have 100 plus students all across the UK in pantomime and run modules in pantomime in our undergraduate curriculum. We are totally committed to this art form.”

The course is headed up by Richard Cheshire and Dr Robert Marsden, who are both recognised researchers and practicing experts in the field with a wealth of professional experience directing and performing pantomime.

As part of the course students will also devise, create, produce and tour their own original pantomime within the community.

Simon Sladen, the creator of the annual Panto Day has acted as an advisor for the MA, while other prominent figures from the industry have also welcomed the news.

Christopher Biggins added: “When I was starting my pantomime career over 50 years ago, I wish I could have gone along the route of getting an MA. We should all be preserving traditions, celebrating specialised training and Britain’s Heritage.”  

Television presenter and experienced pantomime performer Stephen Mulhern also said: “The MA supporting this great British institution is the perfect training ground for performers on stage, technical team, backstage to learn first-hand their skills within this live area of entertainment. Pantomimes have become the highest grossing theatre productions annually for theatres across the UK, often being seen as the lifesaver within the industry due to the profit each panto generates keeping theatres alive.”

You can find more information on the Contemporary Pantomime Practice MA here

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