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!

Time to Remember: the birth of BRIT School

Today the BRIT School is internationally-known, fast approaching its 30th birthday in September next year and with an enviable track record. Over 100 million albums have been sold worldwide by former BRIT School music students, including top selling stars Adele, Leona Lewis, Katie Melua, Jessie J, The Kooks, The Feeling, Katy B and the late Amy Winehouse. Alongside these achievements, the school has fostered the talent of a wide variety of stage performers such as Tom Holland, Cush Jumbo and Louis Maskell.

In this article from October 1989, ANTHONY FIELD, the first Chairman of the Trust which established the school, looks back on the work involved to create a game-changing institution.

A great many confusing statements have been published in various newspapers recently about the so-called “Fame” school, so that it would appear useful for everyone to have a brief, accurate history of how the various parties came to be involved in this exciting venture.

The original concept, pioneered by Mark Featherstone-Witty, led to the formation of the Schools for the Performing Arts Ltd. I was pleased to be asked to be the first Chairman of this Trust, since I had already seen two smaller projects fail to proceed. Indeed, during my time as Finance Director of the Arts Council of Great Britain, the then Secretary-General, Sir Roy Shaw, and I met Tommy Steele about the possibility of establishing a School for Performing Arts on a site in Soho. Andrew Lloyd Webber was also reported as having envisioned such a school being developed within the site of the Palace Theatre.

However, here, at last was the possibility of creating a School which could respond to the current needs of the present arts and entertainment industry. Since the end of World War Two Great Britain has earned an international standing in the performing arts which is pre-eminent, because it is the outcome of many specialist schools. Our magnificently talented singers, dancers, actors, musicians, directors, composers, dramatists and technicians have largely flowed from such schools as RADA, LAMDA, The Guildhall School, The Royal College of Music and others. However, these are all post-18 schools.

Further, for all the brilliance of the talents streaming from these schools, the whole new stream of British (and American) musicals, such as CATS, LES MISERABLES, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, MISS SAIGON and ASPECTS OF LOVE has put a great strain on the new style of talents required from performers. It is no longer simply a matter of being a supreme ballet dancer or actor or opera singer or jazz musician; one has to be able to sing and dance and act and play instruments and deal with new sound and lighting technology (and if you’re in BARNUM, tightrope walk!).

It was to meet this new demand that the philosophy and new curriculum for the Schools for Performing Arts Ltd was established, and attracted the flow of star names as our Patrons with a view that this support would be for a national programme of schools to be launched in a number of cities across Great Britain. Cameron Mackintosh recently joined as a Patron, precisely in the knowledge of his problem alone in casting and re-casting his musicals.

All this has required an incredible input of hard work donated by all our Trustees over a period of some seven years. This culminated in the British Phonographic Industry Trust donating £2.36 million towards the cost of launching the first of such schools and the Department of Education and Science responded with an additional £3.54 million.

At this stage, the London School for Performing Arts and Technology Ltd was incorporated (and known as the BRIT School) to administer the first of such schools on a site at Selhurst, offered by Croydon Council. LSPAT Is a completely separate and different company from the Schools for Performing Arts Ltd and our Patrons.

The investment of some £6 million in the first school, being launched in Croydon, is a major national achievement. it is hoped that another school may be established in Liverpool, spearheaded by Paul McCartney, in collaboration with the SPA Trust.

The confusion which has recently been caused locally in Croydon emanates from local political and educational issues which the Croydon Local Authority will need to resolve. However, the Schools for Performing Arts Trust is enormously grateful to the profession and, in particular, to its many Patrons, who have endorsed and continue to support our new national philosophy of approach to education in the performing arts and technology.

Article published by kind permission of the Estate of Anthony Field

“I have never been to a school like this anywhere in the world; I think it’s that unique… it’s a very special place.”

Tim Cook, Apple CEO

AFTERWORD After the opening of BRIT School, Mark Featherstone-Witty and Anthony Field turned their attention to creating the second performing arts school in Liverpool. With another raft of industry support and many Patrons and individual donors (including HM The Queen who made a private donation to the establishment of the Liverpool School), The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (now famous as LIPA) was created in the next few years, opening in 1996. LIPA is now amongst the most respected educational establishments in the country, regularly appearing in top 20 lists of the best in the UK.

To view the BRITSchool’s website, click here

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!