In today’s installment of our Spotlight on Education series, we continue to explore the United Kingdom with a profile on the Masters in Scenic Art at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Taught by highly experienced industry professionals, this Scenic Art master’s level course offers an intensive, vocational training in Scenic Art at one of the most successful and well-respected conservatoire programmes in the United Kingdom.

To get a deeper look into the conservatoire, we spoke with Marketing and Recruitment Manager Matt Carmichael.


What is unique about this program compared to others?

Our MA in Scenic Art is a vocational course with strong professional links to the industry. It provides intensive, bespoke training, designed to fast-track graduates with high levels of painting and drawing skills into a rewarding career in Scenic Art for the theatre, opera, ballet, film or television. We also often attract those already working in the industry who are looking for a qualification that will allow them to further develop their skills or further advance their career prospects. The course is normally open to just four students each year.

Backcloth for ‘Mrs. Beeton Says

The course is taught at the School’s specialist scenery workshops in Bristol. The majority of teaching and learning is centered on the School’s main house shows. A great deal of time is spent learning and exploring the many specialist techniques required, before applying these to the scenery. Students also learn through a range of specialist master-classes (see below).

The working atmosphere at the Theatre School reflects the environment of a professional producing company, with all the major production and management departments represented. The School stages professional-standard performances across the city of Bristol, allowing students to see their finished work in front of paying audiences at prominent Bristol venues.

Scenic Art students work with professional and student designers and directors and attend design and production meetings to gain an understanding of the roles and demands across all theatre production departments, providing exceptional preparation for working in the industry. As part of the course, students have the opportunity to supervise a show, learning how to manage a scenic art department, working directly with designers, liaising with other departments within the School, costing and ordering materials, and planning time and space management.

Spray project in progress

Students also gain industry experience through a three-week placement undertaken at Easter at some of the most respected Scenic Art workshops in the UK.

In the final term, graduating students showcase their work in a public exhibition, where they will be introduced to and interviewed by some of the UK’s leading practitioners.

We are proud of our students’ exceptional employment record – details of recent graduate employment can be found on our website. Emma Troubridge, Head of Scenic Art at the Royal Opera House, comments of our course and graduates: “We in the industry are profoundly grateful for a course that really does provide our industry with truly work-ready graduates, importantly with a very high standard quality of work, with very much the right mindset.”

Rust effect in progress for the ‘Two Gentlemen of Verona”

How do you assess the student’s progress over the course of your programme?

As a one-year intensive course, there is no annual progression but students are continually assessed against professional standards in Scenic Art. Students will also write a critical self-assessment, supported by an annotated portfolio/diary.

Sky Backcloths in progress for ‘The Tempest’

Do you have a teaching philosophy that you follow?

The training we provide is rigorous, intensive, and career-focused. The interpretive role of the Scenic Artist combines a fine art sensibility, with a vast knowledge of the techniques and materials to realize the designer’s brief on a full-scale set. Students are taught the widely used skills and techniques of a Scenic Artist and that there are always different ways of doing things. Creative thought and practical experimentation inspire much of the work we do. The School’s mantra is that a student’s first day with us is the first day of their professional working life.

Personal project; a copy of Jenny Saville’s ‘ Red Stare’ and spray project ‘Ceramic Dog’

Who are your faculty?

Teaching is led by the School’s Head of Scenic Art, Cathy Stewart, in collaboration with visiting industry professionals who provide master-classes in a range of skills and techniques that currently include life drawing, scenically painting an Old Master, perspective, marbling, wood-graining, and a workshop on polystyrene carving.

Current visiting tutors include Hilary Vernon-Smith, Rosa Dodd, Sara Easby, Simon Farrell, Francesca Maxwell, and Deborah Mitchell. A list of current visiting tutors, along with further information, can be found at oldvic.ac.uk/production/visiting-specialists.

Spray Project ‘Egg’ (the completed one)

What are the tuition costs / length of program / scholarship opportunities?

The programme is a one year (38 week) full-time course. We follow regulations set by the UK government in determining tuition fees – for further information, please see oldvic.ac.uk/course/scenic-art-ma. Applications can be made through UCAS, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.

Completed scenery for ‘The Winters Tale’

What is the Degree / Certificate/ Other associated with the programme?

The Scenic Art course is a Master’s degree and applicants would normally be expected to have an honours degree in a related subject. The awarding body is the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol).


As always, we at the Guild are interested in providing information on where aspiring artists can look to further their education and master their craft. If you know of a program that has yet to be highlighted, please get in touch!

In the meantime, feel free to peruse the institutions we’ve previously covered here:

Spotlight on Education: Cobalt Studios

Spotlight on Education: Boston University

Spotlight on Education; Royal Central School of Speech and Drama

Spotlight on Education: UNCSA and Julliard

Spotlight on Education: The Studio Forum of Scenic Arts

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