LIPA’ s founder Mark Featherstone-Witty hands over the reins..

Mark Featherstone-Witty and Sir Paul McCartney

After 25 years at the head of an educationally pioneering institution, the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts’ Founding Principal and Chief Executive Mark-Featherstone-Witty is stepping down and will be succeeded in September by Sean McNamara, who has been appointed the new principal and chief executive. McNamara currently heads Guildford School of Acting. He is also president of the Federation of Drama Schools.

LIPA’s new CEO Sean McNamara

McNamara said “The work that Mark has done, along with Paul McCartney, in establishing this creative hub in Liverpool, with a national and international reputation for excellence, and to achieve that in just 25 years is phenomenal. To be part of that story, part of LIPA’s next chapter, is a great honour, privilege and responsibility”

Let us not forget that Mark Featherstone-Witty’s founding and development of LIPA was not his first creative foray into education. He had already conceived of, created, designed and raised millions of pounds for the establishment of the BRIT School in Selhurst which is soon to celebrate its 30th anniversary, (see the BRIT School article here) before his bug to expand the creative opportunities for young theatre-makers bit him again.

Following on from BRIT School, Featherstone-Witty established the now internationally-famous Liverpool drama educational establishment in 1996 with Sir Paul McCartney. The building, McCartney’s old school, was transformed by many millions of pounds raised by many enthusiastic supporters including McCartney himself, who I believe gave the first and the last million, and many others, including my late colleague Anthony Field who dedicated himself to supporting Mark and Paul’s efforts, becoming the project’s first Chairman, as he had done with BRIT School previously. Needless to say, my colleagues and I consider Mark, and LIPA to be a valued part of our extended theatre and performance family. With annual surveys showing an extraordinarily high percentage of its graduates in employment, it has recently been ranked as one of the top 20 educational establishments in the UK.

Mark said “As founder, LIPA is one of my children and giving it up is difficult, which is why there’s a gentle transition. I’m grateful Sean is allowing me to do this.”

Featherstone-Witty will continue his work with LIPA by focusing on the ever-expanding aims of the organisation, with progressing LIPA’s primary and sixth-form schools and its high school plans too. Ultimately, the organisation will aim to give a completely integrated education offer which appropriately values the performing arts in all its possibilities. This is a vote of confidence in the future of the arts, despite the ignorant slashing of finance for arts based subjects in the new higher education curriculum. (Let’s not forget the lofty heights of ambition of our current Education Secretary- an ex-fireplace salesman.)

Ian Jones, chair of LIPA’s Council, praised Mark’s ceaseless and dedicated work, saying “Over the past 25 years, Mark has created a remarkable institution for which he has earned our eternal gratitude. It was a challenging task to find a suitable successor and we are delighted that Sean will be picking up the reins. His background and experience make him the ideal leader for us as we move forward into the next phase of our development.”

With industry enthusiasm across the board for this establishment built with care for its students and a realistic eye for the world of work which yet maintains a burning passion for its subjects. No wonder the busiest producers -from Thelma Holt to David Pugh to Katy Lipson -all willingly offered their time to travel to Liverpool to talk to students in MasterClasses and other informal settings. Countless musicians including Sir Paul and master producer Sir George Martin (who donated and created the cutting-edge sound studios at the Institute), as well as a long roll-call of performers and others living in the arts today. Extraordinary MasterClasses from those at their peak across the performance and arts world have lead to many fruitful partnerships, friendships, collaborations and honorees at LIPA’s annual graduations, which are quite an event, with Sir Paul in attendance whenever he is not touring.

In 2014, Mark Featherstone-Witty, after the death of his friend and supporter in so many ventures, Anthony Field, established the Anthony Field Producer Prize, given annually to the outstanding graduate from the producing course, and a notable award from such a high calibre of talent.

So let’s remember all the incredible artists, musicians, producers, directors, marketers, impresarios, sound designers, engineers, mixers, lighting designers, writers, actors and many other technical on-and off- stage creatives who have learned their trade at LIPA and had their inspiration fired by the dedication of the incredible work of Mark Featherstone-Witty and his staff. An impressive legacy for anyone. Congratulations – and thank you for creating a positive, welcoming and inspiring home for fostering and developing LIPA Students’ boundless talents, Mark!

Bring back the Solotoria!

With the pandemic curtailing most theatre as we have previously experienced it, producers and entrepreneurs have been spurred into creative overdrive in considering new and unusual forms of theatre spaces.

Brilliant independent producer Katy Lipson is part of a consortium engaged in design and construction of Vertical Theatre, a space for a variety of theatre forms in an in-the-round configuration with a majority of the audience seated in vertically tiered boxes. This space is designed to be portable so that it can be constructed, run and then struck and toured around the country, rather in the way we are used to seeing circuses sweep across the country’s parks and green spaces. Its an interesting idea.

Then there is the group who are planning drive-in theatre at one of the big London exhibition centres. Not sure how this one will rate, especially with all those emisssions (from the cars!).

In all of this creative flurry, one recent innovation sprang to mind whose time has perhaps finally come.

Of what do I speak, dear reader?

The Solotoria, of course!

What do you mean you’ve never heard of it!

As described on its website, Solotoria is ” a spectacular theatrical experience……one person at a time.”

Created by LIPA graduates Ashley Shairp and Sam Heath, Solotoria offers one person a 3-minute show in the plush surroundings that we have all missed this last year.

Audients can choose from attending the “Mini Blackpool Grand Theatre” for a comedy or a magic show. Those with higher-brow tastes can attend the “Mini Royal Opera House, Covent Garden” for a programme of either ballet or opera.

As the website describes, “the individual (solo) audience member wears a pair of headphones and places their head inside the space – the experience is immersive: each show has its own soundscape, the auditorium lights dim and the show begins…

The Solotoria toured the UK in 2014/5 to great interest and public acclaim for its ingenuity and care in its detailing of both auditoria models, as well as the mini-shows themselves.

You can watch a video of audients at a Mini Royal Opera House preview show here

And you can view the Solotoria at their website here

And here, at last, is the view of the Solotoria’s Mini Royal Opera House. Just for you!

(With thanks to Dr Maria Barrett for reminding me of this item)

Joshua Ford wins LIPA’s Anthony Field Producer Prize 2019

Joshua Ford

Many Congratulations to Joshua Ford, a graduate student of Arts Management at LIPA, the Liverpool School for Performing Arts, who has won the 2019 Anthony Field Producer Prize.

The prize has been awarded annually since 2014. It was created by LIPA’s Founder and continuing CEO, Mark Featherstone-Witty, to honour the memory of my late friend and colleague Anthony Field.

Anthony Field pioneered arts management training in the 1960s in the UK and in America, and worked for decades as Finance Director of the Arts Council of Great Britain. As well as this, he was a successful producer himself, with over 300 shows to his name. Aside from this, he was the driving force behind the fundraising to establish LIPA and to realise Sir Paul McCartney’s dream to see his old school reborn as a hub of arts excellence. LIPA is now rated one of the UK’s top 20 universities.

The Anthony Field Producer Prize is awarded annually for excellence shown by an emerging producer, and Joshua is a worthy winner.

Congratulations Joshua! Remember the name, folks!