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From Newcastle to High House for chief Andrea
7:30am Monday 29th October 2012 in News
GROWING up on a council estate in Wallsend near Newcastle, Andrea Stark never considered there might be a career for her in the arts.
The new chief executive of High House Production Park, which hosts the Royal Opera House’s production workshop in Purfleet, left school at 16, describing herself as not O-level material.
But thanks to a drama workshop, which she admits she was reluctant to attend, her talent was kindled and she then decided to study theatre at her local further education college – and never looked back.
“The closest I came to the arts when I was growing up was my dad singing Frank Sinatra,” she laughs.
“I wouldn’t ever have dreamed – and like many young people I wouldn’t have known how to go about looking for a career in the arts.”
Andrea was 13 when she attended the workshop that sparked a lifelong passion for theatre and the arts.
“I was completely transported by it,” she explains. “It was one of those things, a bit like the first time you listen to a piece of music and are totally absorbed.
“It hit me out of the blue how much I enjoyed doing drama and I suddenly realised there was the possibility I could do something with that.”
Andrea found out later that the workshop had been part of an outreach programme by another major player in the arts world, the Royal Shakespeare Company, which having just branched into Newcastle was working with youngsters in the area in a similar fashion to the way the Royal Opera House is developing links in Thurrock now.
Supported by her further education college, Andrea got into university, and as a result is deeply passionate about placing opportunities in front of youngsters to help fulfill their ambitions in the arts.
As well as the Royal Opera House’s main workshop on the site, where huge sets are built and painted ahead of going onstage at the Covent Garden theatre, the site hosts the UK’s first National Skills Academy dedicated to technical skills, craft and production.
Andrea adds: “Looking ahead to the immediate future, the National Skills Academy by spring of next year will be fully operational and welcoming in groups of students to study and building up community links.
“Major bands and theatre companies will be coming in to use the rehearsal space and it’s a great opportunity for students to learn their skills alongside them as part of it.”
Another big project for the site will see a series of artist’s studios, currently being designed by Acme, due to open in a year’s time – which will see a community of artists working as part of the bustle and growing buzz of the park.
“There’s more space on the site to be developed,” says Andrea. “One of the things I’ll be looking at is what are the next set of opportunities for us to develop more.”
Persuading a name like the Royal Opera House to move out of London was a major coup for Thurrock and Andrea personally, and she thinks part of the success was in its surprise element.
“The idea of relocating the Royal Opera House from Covent Garden to Thurrock isn’t the first thing that would occur to you,” she admits.
“It could’ve gone horribly wrong, but it’s gone incredibly well because of the professionalism involved and also the amount of support and generosity from people here.
“They feel inspired by the place and are making a contribution to the local community.”
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