Two Sunderland Performing Arts graduates have secured their place on the first course of its kind in the North of England dedicated to actor training.

This month Sophie Butler and Kazia Pickering begin their training with Newcastle Theatre Royal’s ‘Project A’ drama training programme, aimed at helping 18 to 25-year-olds who are serious about an acting career.

Having both achieved first-class degrees this summer at the University of Sunderland, the students went through a rigorous audition process and were cast for the year-long programme under the mentorship of actor and director Phil Hoffmann.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic having a sudden and substantial impact on the nation’s arts and cultural sector, Sophie and Kazia are determined to stick to their career goals.

Sophie said: “I’m absolutely elated to have been accepted onto Project A, especially during these uncertain times.

“This opportunity will allow me to develop further not only as a performer but as an industry professional.

“Studying Performing Arts at Sunderland for three years prepared me for opportunities like this one and I am so grateful to have all of the lecturers’ continued support.

“I can’t wait to start this exciting new chapter.”

Phil Hoffmann, Project A Artistic Director, said: “We are delighted to welcome Sophie and Kazia onto Project A this year.

“Over the last three years we have developed an excellent working relationship with the University of Sunderland, and we look forward to it growing further.

“Welcoming two of their recent graduates into Theatre Royal from September is a fantastic start to that.”

Academics say both students have worked hard to achieve their place, and drew on their experiences of a collaboration between Newcastle’s Live Theatre and University of Sunderland which offers access to the venue and interviews with actors and writers as part of their Performing Arts degree.

Live Theatre Emeritus Associate Director Max Roberts, also a Sunderland Visiting Professor, delivering industry relevant modules and employability workshops, helped Kazia select a relevant monologue for her audition from the play Clear White Light.

Max said: “It’s great to hear the students are moving on to study at Project A, and it was great to be able to help Kazia find a speech from a play that originated from Live Theatre for her audition piece.

“It was fantastic to work with Kazia and Sophie when students at the University and I wish them the best of luck.”

Kazia, 21, originally from West Yorkshire and now living in Newcastle, said: “My three years on the performing arts course has allowed me to gain so much confidence within myself for the acting industry and I am so excited to begin my new chapter at Project A – this acting programme is funded and based at the Theatre Royal and we are so lucky to have this opportunity whilst COVID-19 is still among us. A massive thank you to the performing arts department for all you have done for us!”

Dr Adelle Hulsmeier, Senior Lecturer in Performing Arts and Programme Leader for Screen Performance, said: “To move onto study with Project A is so exciting for our graduates.

“I’m very proud of both Kazia and Sophie. They demonstrated their excellent acting skills throughout their time with us here on the Performing Arts programme and it’s so exciting that they get to focus their next steps in acting.

“Project A will allow them to sharpen their skills and pave a way to a very successful acting career in their future. We wish them the best of luck and we will be here to support them the whole way.”

About Project A

Project A is a one-year actor training programme led by an artistic director and supported by leading industry specialists.

Delivered from within Newcastle Theatre Royal over three terms, participants gain professional actor training culminating in a full-scale production term.

Each year the programme accept up to 18 students. They work intensively over one year to deliver a level of work akin to repertory level training with a focus on ensemble work and performance.

The programme provides a high-quality actor training programme which is accessible and affordable in one of the UK’s most affordable and culturally vibrant cities.

The facilities and resources it provides students are unrivalled by any other training provider; with access to the theatre’s main house auditorium, visiting professionals, studio theatre, rehearsal room and dedicated Project A training space.

Working from within a busy working theatre every day is an experience unrivalled by other institutions.

Project A engages top industry professionals, renowned regionally, nationally and internationally to work with the students for intensive weeks during the second term and for masterclass sessions during term one.

The third term is dedicated to producing a full-scale piece of theatre and aims to deliver fresh and thought-provoking work to our audiences.

Now in its fifth year, Project A has had 59 students graduate from the programme.

Over 90% have gone on to work professionally or gain agent representation within six months of graduation.