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Niamh Dowling on the Alchemical Impact of London

Niamh Dowling is Head of School of Performance at Rose Bruford College in London. She has worked extensively internationally as a Movement Director, leading workshops in UK, Europe, USA, Asia, South and Central America and Russia. Niamh trained in London, Paris and New York. She has collaborated closely with Teatr Piesn Kozla in Poland for fifteen years and is one of the practitioners in Routledge Performance Archive. 

The very sound and taste of the names of the major creative cities of the world – London, Berlin, Paris, New York – conjured up images of a soul and spirit that provoked my imagination into dreams and aspirations of what can be. Coming from Ireland to London I felt that I had arrived in my life! I had made it! Escaping from the expected predictable choices, to leave, to dare, to try, to jump, to forfeit known pathways, if only for a while.

London has a particular alchemical impact on people, who pick up on the energy; the lightness, the darkness, the endless potential and possibilities. The city is mad, bad and dangerous and we want to be part of that, for fear we will miss life or it will pass us by. It’s one of the reasons those who are drawn to be artists, are drawn to this city. And for those whose chosen art form is a collaborative one, such as theatre makers, the lure of the city is even stronger.

It doesn’t take long in London to find others who yearn to create. It seems everyone is an actor, an artist, writer or director making their way, finding routes to survive financially whilst keeping the spirit of their dreams alive. 

Artists have a vital place in this city’s ecology, which is why as theatre trainers, when we looked to create new postgraduate courses that reflect the needs and desires of today’s theatre makers, we looked to places and partners that embody the spirit of this city. Companies like Theatre Delicatessen who have redefined the way space for making theatre is understood; first in Marylebone, then Farringdon and now in Liverpool St where our new MA/MFA Actor/Performer training will be based. Theatre Deli not only produce theatre, they have created a holding space for emergent talent. They have found a way that offers others a way to do it too. A way that demands that we stop prevaricating and get on with it. Companies like Told By An Idiot, with whom we’ve partnered on a new MA/MFA in Collaborative Theatre Making, which since its first show in 1993 have led the way in creating collaboratively and have staged many wonderful performances in the city and around the world.

Of course London is not without its challenges and the rapid changes the city has seen in recent years, with rising rents and corporatisation of public space have led some to fear the city is losing its artists. To some, London is crowded, distracting, anonymous, exhausting and over stimulating. You need clear boundaries to survive as an artist here. And theatre by its very nature is international. Participants in our new courses will have the chance to travel and learn about theatre practise in other countries like Georgia in 2018. We are launching courses in Berlin, a city which many artists are looking to as London fears the consequences of Brexit.

Cities are cosmopolitan, they offer artists the opportunity to cross cultural and interdisciplinary boundaries. You meet every kind of person in the world in the city. You can broaden your own horizons and become voices to express what is going on. You are closer to understanding 'other' and realising that you too are 'other.' Everything that makes up the sum of who you are is what the creative world demands that you owe it to yourself to be. By stepping away from Ireland I understood better my Irishness, my roots, my politics, my origins and the source of my very being. I could meet other cultures in celebration of difference and acceptance of the opportunity for cultural exchange. 

And the more self-aware you become as artist, the more you notice what is happening in the city; the inequalities, the poverty, the social problems, the political situations. And the artist has permission to give voice. Indeed, it is your job. Values change as you can reach out and touch the nooks and crannies of this wonderful capital. You meet the ones you feared, the ones you dreamt of, the ones you were angry with or loved and the ones you hated. You feel you belong, you are part of and yet, at any moment, you could leave and move on or return to base, richer, poorer, less idealistic and more aspirational. Touched for ever, changed, grown up, more youthful and freer.

London informs you, challenges you, feeds you. It is both teacher and student. It changes all the time as you move through it and because you move through it. It is the total sum of all of us and more than that. It is the history of writers, creatives, artists, actors who came here to find a place to be freed of constraints and to meet new collaborators and to come to understand their true identity as an artist. It is this we aspire to offer the new postgraduate students that will join us from September, and in the years to come.


To find out more about Global Faculty, a new suite of postgraduate programmes from Rose Bruford College, visit

Twitter: @GlobalFacultyRB