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Ellie Sturrock

Level 6 Musical Theatre

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Ellie Sturrock

Ellie studies Musical Theatre at Newcastle College University Centre. She Stepped Up to a degree after studying at Newcastle College. Find out what she has to say about her time learning with us.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself, your background, etc.?

I have been performing in theatre and plays since I was 10 years old. I wasn’t sure if that was what I wanted to go into in the future, so my GCSE years were more academic than dramatic. However, I tried out A-Levels for a year and realised it absolutely was not for me, so I transferred to Newcastle College and began an acting course here, since after so long of trying to talk myself out of it, I decided to go for it – and I absolutely do not regret it.

Why did you choose to step up to a degree at Newcastle College University Centre?

I’d already been studying BTEC Theatre at Newcastle College, so it felt like a natural progression. There were a lot of people in my class who went on to London drama schools, but because of financial and personal reasons I wanted to stay closer to home. When I was given the opportunity to step up and continue studying at Newcastle College University Centre, I jumped at the chance. My teachers were all so supportive throughout the application process, and were my biggest advocates for carrying on all the way from BTEC to a degree course.

What was it about this course that made you want to progress onto a degree at Newcastle College University Centre?

For me, a lot of the appeal came from the people, and the environment. The facilities we’ve got at Newcastle College University Centre specifically for the Musical Theatre course are top of the range, like the dance studios and theatre hall, which are both so much better than what’s offered at other universities or conservatories. The people here are so welcoming too – I’ve made so many friends throughout my BTEC course, and even though lots of them moved away, just as many stayed in the region, so it felt right to stay together. The support I’ve received from my tutors was brilliant, they always wanted us to succeed. Admittedly, I had a few personal struggles during my time here, but the support that the University Centre staff provided me throughout that time was fantastic. They all really wanted me to do the best I could – and for me, the environment I have learned in and the people I learned amongst were both major parts in my enjoyment of my degree.

What benefits do you think there are in choosing to stay on to study at Newcastle College University Centre?

I’ve received the full experience from doing BTEC to my degree. The course content from Level 4 upwards builds on everything you learn at Level 3, but the lecturers really focus in on helping you develop your confidence and personal skills, to be the best version of yourself possible. Studying at Newcastle College University Centre offers so many enriching opportunities, like going to see shows at the Northern Stage and other theatres around the country; we get a lot of guest speakers in from the industry to run workshops as well, which are great at helping us to finesse our skills. As I’ve progressed through my degree, I’ve been able to use these opportunities to strengthen my ability as a performer, and to continue learning on a more serious level.

What are the facilities like at the University Centre for your course and as a student?

The facilities for the Musical Theatre course are really, really good! Compared to a lot of other drama schools or similar institutions, where the dance studios aren’t up-to-date art all, at Newcastle College University Centre, they’re all fully modernised and have loads more space than usual. For example, we’ve got the ballet bars, which are so helpful for specific dance styles. More generally, there are also university-specific areas of the campus, like Parsons’ tenth floor and IT suites, which is a great space to relax or do work. It is such a massive help for me personally to have these industry-standard facilities on my doorstep at all times, and these facilities played a big part in my choice to step up to the University Centre.

What do you enjoy the most about your degree?

Apart from the people, of course, it’s the lecturers. I’m really good friends with everyone in my class, and I think that’s very important in a musical theatre course because you’re constantly putting yourself out there, so the support you receive from teachers and your peers is vital. We have a lot of fun too! My course in particular very heavily emphasises being actively creative, and stepping out of your comfort zone, so having teachers who are willing to improvise with you and play around with our individual creative processes is both inspiring and enjoyable. For me, I think that if I were learning in a far stricter environment, then I wouldn’t learn anywhere near as much. Having such a good relationship with my teachers has definitely helped me to develop professionally and personally.

What inspires you?

I think growing up doing theatre, there was a lot of inspiration from other performers. But my family are a bigger inspiration to me. My mam is a huge fan of theatre, and I was a bit nervous when I first considered applying for a theatre degree, because a lot of parents wouldn’t want their children to study a subject without a promise of secure employment in future – but my mam’s support really drove those fears away. Also, the creative environment I get to spend every day within is so inspiring, since it means we have a safe space to play around with ideas and have fun, which I think is a lot more than many other university students get!

Tell us about how you have worked with industry whilst studying your degree (i.e. talks / live briefs / projects).

A few times a year, industry professionals come in to lead workshops. We’ve had workshops about dance with people who’ve acted in West End musicals, or singing workshops with someone with literally decades of theatre experience. We’ve had days where people could go into theatres, or to do short placements with different industry professionals in different sectors of the drama world. That’s always a lot of fun since it means we can tailor our learning to suit whatever it is we want to go into. The course has also helped me outside of university, since I do a lot of extra-curricular theatre as well, so I get even more opportunities to practise and apply what I learn at the University Centre in my daily life. This will absolutely help me to get jobs once I graduate, since my experience and specialist knowledge across a range of topics will, I believe, really set me apart.

How do you think learning from industry experienced tutors has benefitted you?

It’s helped me massively, because all of my tutors know exactly what they’re talking about! There’s a big difference between someone in industry who knows what they’re talking about through years of experience, and someone who’s just learning from a book. For example, I had an old singing teacher who wasn’t in industry, and they couldn’t help me anywhere near as much as my course teachers at the University Centre can. For me, and for my peers, that kind of industry knowledge and experience is so helpful.

How would you describe the staff at the University Centre?

Really good! We have a lot of teachers on my degree course, but since each have a different specialism, and all my teachers are so experienced, I’ve been able to learn so much about so many different areas within performing arts, music, and dance, that will help me gain a really competitive edge once I enter the jobs market. Another great thing about our lecturers at the University Centre is that they make sure everyone receives all the information and additional support they need. For me personally, I had personal challenges during my Level 4, but the HE Team and my tutors provided such a brilliant support structure for me, which really helped me to stick in and achieve the success I did.

Have you overcome any challenges either before or whilst studying your degree?

During the first year of my degree, my dad passed away. It was an emotional time, as well as a massive challenge, because he passed away one week before we were due to go on stage in a major show, so I had to drop out of that at the last minute. I was worried about the impact that would have on my troupe and the performance we’d all worked so hard on, but my tutors and my peers were all 100% with me the entire way. They made sure I was alright, they helped me to arrange to do assessments at home (since most assessments on the Musical Theatre degree are in person), and covered my parts during the show to make sure I wouldn’t feel guilty for dropping out at short notice. All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive environment than the one I found at Newcastle College University Centre.

What kinds of support have you received during your studies?

Obviously, I’ve received quite a bit of assistance during my degree course at Newcastle College University Centre, but I’ve never had any issues asking for support. My teachers, Student Services, and the HE Team are all so friendly, it never feels like you’re inconveniencing anyone by asking for help because everyone you speak to is so willing to support you. When I first started at the University Centre, my lecturers all went out of their way to help me secure the additional help I needed in arranging to take exams at home. What struck me more though was that they were just as keen to make sure I wasn’t under any additional or unnecessary stress. I’ve carried that mindset of asking for help ever since, which has especially helped me out during my dissertation this year, and I couldn’t thank the University Centre staff enough for all their support.

What has been the highlight of your time studying at Newcastle College University Centre?

It was probably the end of year show last year, because due to COVID, it was the first time in almost two years that my troupe and I could all meet together and perform in person. Initially, we all thought the show would be filmed and shared online like many other performances, but because restrictions were being lifted, we got to act together, which was brilliant in so many ways! It was also the last time a lot of us were able to perform together, because a lot of people moved on after Level 5 so didn’t step up to a Level 6 degree, so it was a fantastic chance to meet up, do one last show in the Performance Academy, and reunite with some great friends for the first and last time in a long while.

What’s Newcastle like as a student city, in your experience?

It’s a great student city! We have a lot of fun. My class is a very social class, so we end up going out and doing group activities quite a lot. We like to go out and have a drink in the pub after a long day, and we went and played golf the other week, which was really fun! Newcastle is such a great place if you want to find something different to go and try out, since there is genuinely something here for everyone. I absolutely love this city!

In what ways do you think your degree at Newcastle College University Centre has prepared you for employment?

Throughout my degree course, I’ve done a module called “Industry Portfolio” which is helping me to know how best to prepare my CV and present myself to industry when I’m making applications to the musical theatre industry. This includes showreels, CVs, social media accounts specific to our course, and other similar elements. Our teacher for this module has years of experience helping us to make the most competitive applications possible, so that by the end of our degree courses we can send applications straight away to casting agents. Honestly, it’s so reassuring to know a lot of graduates of University Centre degrees at the Performance Academy go straight into employment in the industry, based on the quality of teaching we get during our degrees.

What are your plans after you graduate?

Honestly, I’m not 100% certain. I want to stay and do as much acting as I possibly can, but I’m quite interested in going down a teaching route because I’d like to complete teaching training so I could expand my potential career options. I’m getting so much advice and support from my lecturers for teacher training though, as well as tips on how to complete a course while balancing acting alongside the qualification, so I’m glad I have this level of support to pursue my dreams.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about Steppin’ Up to a degree at Newcastle College University Centre?

I would say, just do it! It’s a fantastic place to be, and some of the friends I’ve made here will be friends for life, I’m certain. Even if you’re unsure, or you’re debating your options in your head, I think the Newcastle College University Centre is such a brilliant place to study, and it’s nowhere near as scary as it might appear at first. This might be especially true if, like me, you’re one of the first people in your family to do a degree, since there’s a smaller pool of personal contacts available to advise you, but having continued to study at Newcastle College University Centre, I can say with confidence that I absolutely made the right choice stepping up. While degrees are obviously more difficult than college work, and are bound to be challenging, they are nowhere near as hard or scary as you’ll build them up to be in your head.  

Describe your student experience in three words.

Fun. Challenging (but in the best way). Rollercoaster.

What are your top 5 tips for Steppin’ Up at Newcastle College?

Take every opportunity that’s presented to you – optional workshops can be a fantastic learning resource.

Ask for support when you need it.

Be friendly – you’ll make new friends and become more comfortable far faster if you befriend people on your course.

Use the facilities – Newcastle College University Centre offers so many industry-standard facilities that other colleges and universities can’t compete with, make the most of them!

Enjoy yourself – it’ll pass by faster than you know, so have fun while you’re doing it!