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Last Updated: Friday, 11 May 2007, 06:10 GMT 07:10 UK
'An eccentric sort of establishment'
BBC News Online's Jemima Laing spoke to six ex-students of Dartington College of Arts, which could be moving from Devon to Cornwall.

They look back on their time there and reflect on what studying at the college has meant to them.

Spike Knowles
Spike Knowles
Programme tester

Gill Capewell
Gill Capewell
Freelance voiceover

Pam Matfield
Pam Matfield
Theatre practitioner

Mick Jackson  Kevin Cummins
Mick Jackson
Writer

Angharad Wynne-Jones
Angharad Wynne-Jones
Festival director

Jo Weekes
Jo Weekes
Artist

SPIKE KNOWLES, 46, programme tester at publishing company

Spike Knowles
Spike Knowles at Dartington in 1981
My drama teacher at Sixth Form college had been to Dartington, I was doing a lot of drama at the time and she suggested I apply.

The ethos permeated through the teaching and some of it was a bit hippyish.

Coming from a working class background, it was a bit annoying when I first got there, but you get sucked in.

Dartington's reputation attracted a lot of visiting artists. An abiding memory is of a visit by the Gay Sweatshop Theatre Company - I made friends during that time that I still have now.

One of the really good things was taking theatre out into the community, a practical application of what we were learning.

It was four years in an idyllic place

A favourite tutor was Keith Yon, who was from St Helena. He was our voice teacher and was an amazing person and a lovely man.

He brought such a different sensibility to the place.

I've worked in this publishing company for 19 years now and Dartington still has an effect on me. What I took from my time there is an ability to think a lot more creatively.

Dartington definitely allowed you to do that and gave you permission to experiment, it was a privilege to go there. It was four years in an idyllic place.

MICK JACKSON, 47, writer

Mick Jackson  Kevin Cummins
Mick Jackson did a BA (Hons) in Theatre Studies from 1979-83
I think I'd decided I wanted to do something to do with the arts but that was all.

It was actually an aunt of mine who happened to spot an advert for the course in The Guardian, thought it might be the kind of thing I might find interesting and mailed it down to me. Good old Auntie Molly.

There were several tutors who really helped me. In my first year I was very taken with an acting tutor called Joe Richards.

But a writing tutor who introduced me lots of stuff to do with British folklore - and who I'm still good friends with today - is Peter Kiddle.

What strikes me now is how much freedom we had in our productions. Don't get me wrong. I worked very hard right through the course.

I can't imagine having that sort of artistic freedom these days
But I didn't mind, as it was something that I loved. I can't imagine having that sort of artistic freedom these days.

And I had a full grant and my fees paid. My time was right at the beginning of Margaret Thatcher's reign.

The arts and education seemed almost to be considered the enemy by her government. So I felt like I managed to slip in just before the door slammed behind me.

It was a fabulous location and the college was so small that you seemed to know just about ever other student in the place - even just to nod at.

There's no doubt that it was an eccentric sort of establishment, but I definitely count myself lucky to have studied there.

GILL CAPEWELL, 56, freelance voiceover

Gill Capewell
Gill Capewell:"The move will be the end of an era"
I was nearly 30 and running a B&B when I decided that I wanted to go to drama school. I was living in Paignton and heard about the course at Dartington and applied.

It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say it changed my life.

I had always done what others wanted me to do and now was a chance for me to do something for myself.

It was about living a dream and taking a risk and it gave me the freedom to be me.
The place had an amazing feeling of creativity and tranquillity

It was totally engaging and absorbing and we worked so hard, there was an amazing feeling of creativity and tranquillity.

I have such strong memories of walking through the doors into the main square and that magic atmosphere. The move will be the end of an era I'm sure.

I do remember my personal tutor Roger Sell and Peter Hulton, who was so visionary.

I left after two years to take up an offer of a job in radio - which I did for 20 years but the last I heard I was free to go back and finish my degree if I ever wanted to!

Now my daughter is looking at colleges to do musical theatre, I just want her to follow her dream and not wait until she's 30.

ANGHARAD WYNNE-JONES, 45, director of London International Festival of Theatre

Angharad Wynne-Jones
"We made theatre, saw theatre and talked about theatre"
I studied Theatre from 1980 to 1984.

I chose Dartington because the course had a strong social context, because it was in beautiful countryside and because my partner went there.

I have so many memories of my time there; falling off the back of my clapped-out moped as I went up one of the too-steep Devon lanes and never knowing if I was going to hitch a 10-minute ride down the drive or have a one-hour walk into Totnes; forming a company - Industrial and Domestic Theatre Contractors.

I can remember lying on the floor in Studio One with a guided relaxation and having an out-of-body experience and doing Grotowski workshops with local kids in Plymouth at the third-year studio.

I'm never stuck for something to do

The quality of the teaching from all my lecturers was superb.

I particularly remember Peter Hulton inspirational for his rigour, his emotional intelligence and commitment to beautiful reduction and Mary Fulkerson for making me stand still.

We made theatre, saw theatre and talked about theatre.

A lasting effect of my time there has been that I believe in the transformational power of art and creativity, I'm never stuck for something to do and lifelong friendships.

PAM MATFIELD,80, retired theatre practitioner

Pam Matfield at Dartington
Pam Matfield in a Dartington production of Cabaret
I was 56 when I got my degree from Dartington - when my last child went off to university I decided to do a degree as well.

I always felt so privileged to have been chosen to go there, I was told they had 2,000 applicants, interviewed 200 and accepted 30 of us.

I took a lump sum from my pension to fund myself and it was the hardest four years of my life - I have never been so cold or so hungry but nor have I ever been so exhilarated.

I really enjoyed my third year in Plymouth and loved bringing the community into the studio warehouse, which was off Union Street.

I did all sorts of things when I finished but I began to realise I was losing what I did the degree for.

So I started to look for and get work as a theatre practitioner, carrying on the Dartington ethos.
Be prepared to go with the flow

When I was 75 I decided to stop and did a BTEC in Art & Design and am now a sculptor.

I have a belief in the goodness of mankind and Dartington has helped me to share that belief through theatre, dance and music. It was a wonderful experience.

I hope the ethos continues if they move to Falmouth, which is itself a brilliant place.

What I would say to any student going there now is be prepared to go with the flow.

We all have expectations when we take on something new, but be prepared to change, because you will.

JO WEEKES, 72, artist

Jo Weekes
Jo Weekes during her time at Dartington in the 1980s

I had joined a very good drama group in Dulverton where I was living and got the bug.

Then, when I was 46, my husband got a place at Plymouth to do photography so I decided to apply for Dartington and we moved to Totnes.

It was hard being a mature student - physically, emotionally and mentally hard - but it was also fantastic and opened you up to everything.

I enjoyed my year out in Plymouth which I spent with Plymouth Action Community Theatre, I remember working at Moorhaven and doing a lot of work with patients there.

It was an intense and emotional time and something I will never forget.
Who's to say something better won't emerge

It will be sad in a lot of ways if it does move but things do move on, who's to say something better won't emerge?

When I finished there I worked in a nursing home for six months as an occupational therapist, using techniques like reminiscence theatre.

It's amazing when you see a spark of people's younger selves, that was really worthwhile.

But I became ill after six months so I didn't really use my degree.

But now I have found art and work with paint and collage and have an exhibition of my work in Totnes next year.

I'm part terrified and part excited.

At Dartington we used to say "follow the accident, fear the fixed plan," I think that's what Dartington did for me.




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