What a performance

25th February 2005 at 00:00
For most of his life, John Dryden has been at the forefront of teaching drama, so it is fitting that on his retirement he is nominated for anaward

For John Dryden, being nominated and then shortlisted was timely. It coincided with his last call: he has retired from teaching drama. It marked the end of a long career as a professional actor and director working in theatre, television and film, followed by 12 years passing on the craft to performing arts students.

John, 62, took early retirement from lecturing at Chichester college last summer. He says the nomination, for FE Tutor of the Year, was the icing on the cake. "I was thrilled," he says. "Staff across the college had recognised the work I'd done over the years and it gave me a lovely farewell."

When he arrived at the college in 1992 there was a small music and drama department and little in the way of performing arts courses. On becoming head of department, he started new courses from basic first diploma through to level 4, including stage management, A-level dance, and musical theatre.

His students have ranged from youngsters pursuing a career in drama, to pensioners exploring an interest in acting. Many have moved on to prestigious institutions such as RADA and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

John has also encouraged his students to work in the community. They have performed Julius Caesar in the ruins of a Roman palace, and taken the roles of extras in improvised Forties and Fifties-themed open days. He has worked hard to forge stronger links with schools.

From the time he arrived, his department began staging plays for children at Christmas. "It built up so that we ended up doing two weeks of performances, three shows a day, which is what my students would have found they were doing in the business. That's the way you do it. And, of course, we were bringing in several thousand pounds which was great revenue for the department."

After several years as head of department, John took a demotion to escape the oppression of mounting paperwork and concentrate on what he liked doing best - teaching.

During his early career he made a living without having to work in cafes or bars while "resting". He worked for the British Council, taking theatre around countries in Africa and the Far East. He also directed in theatres in London and the provinces in repertory. From 1976 to 1982 he presented a children's TV programme called The Sunday Gang.

John says recognition brought by the awards puts the spotlight on performing arts courses run by FE colleges: "If kids at 18 have done A-levels, it's difficult for them to go on to drama school. Directors want talent and experience. You can have a talented 16 or 18-year-old, but someone aged 19 or 20, who's been around the world or done an FE course, has a little more nous about them."


Name: John Dryden. Job: Retired lecturer in performing arts, Chichester College. Category: Shortlisted for FE Tutor of the Year, sponsored by FENTO

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