Before he left us to take up a new and exciting position in Manchester, Mr Crumpton spoke to some of our Sixth Formers about his past, present and future.
Before we begin, I wanted to ask whether you're looking forward to it. Is it something that makes you nervous? I don't mind doing interviews. I've done hour-long interviews in French for a French Canadian radio station about a Shakespeare film that I did. So, you know, I'd say it will always depend on what the questions are. Why did you move to Madrid in the first place? Was it a difficult adjustment for you? So I moved to Madrid all the way back in 2011. I was living in Manchester at the time, and I am returning to Manchester so there's a nicely cyclical quality to it. I had been learning Spanish at the Instituto Cervantes in Manchester, because I got to know a few Spanish people in Manchester when there was a big community there, particularly during the lost generation years, post the crisis. So lots of Spaniards moved over to the UK, and were working in bars and hotels and restaurants. I got to know a few people socially and always felt frustrated that I couldn't communicate with them in Spanish when I already spoke French and felt that I wasn't a traditional English monoglot. So I was learning Spanish and I saw a job that was advertised in Madrid, as an English teacher and I thought what an amazing opportunity that would be. I applied and was flown over and had a lovely interview with Ms Parry and I met Mr Powell. I’ll always remember Miss Quinn there at the desk and thinking ‘wow, she is an amazing school secretary to have’. I was lucky enough to be offered the job and accepted it. That was in January of 2011, so I had enough time to reconcile with the fact that I was moving countries and to arrange everything that the move would require. I felt quite ready when I moved over and I obviously continued my Spanish lessons. So as an adjustment I think it was relatively smooth when I first moved over. I was lucky enough that Ms O’Driscoll had started at the same time and we immediately established a very strong friendship and a really good working relationship. There were lovely people in the English Department, Ms Parry was immediately a really good friend, she was the head of English at that point. The school was quite a bit smaller than it is now, but it meant that it maybe wasn't quite so overwhelming as an experience to join it. And I loved Madrid, I’d lived in London, I was living in Manchester, which is a pretty big city, so there was not a big culture shock in terms of living in a big, urban environment. Had you done any teaching before coming to Runnymede? Yes. So at the time in Manchester, I was head of Performing Arts at a Sixth Form College. In fact, up until then, I'd only ever really taught sixth formers. So one of the adjustments was very much teaching Year 7 English, which wasn't a level that I’d had much experience of teaching before. I had taught before, I did some teaching in London while I was acting, teaching both at undergraduate level and then also sixth form level. So I had teaching experience, but teaching Key Stage Three, teaching IGCSE was something completely new as well, all of that was a bit of a baptism of fire. But that's the nature I think of being a teacher, you adapt to things and if you love your subject, or subjects in my case, you can always channel that love into different tasks and opportunities.
This brings us onto our next question. What was Runnymede like when you first arrived? What have been the most significant changes? So Runnymede then was basically in the train. The English department was in the first few classrooms as you enter the train ground floor. Basically there were three English classrooms that we had, one where Mr Sowden was, one where I was and then a smaller one where Ms Parry was, and that was the English department. So obviously the department is significantly larger now. I had a year 11 group that I think had eight students and then there were more students in the younger year groups and, to be honest, I had more kids doing A-level then than we do now. So that's one thing that hasn't necessarily changed, the numbers doing A-level English Lit. So, it was a smaller school, but all the same values, I think overall. There's still the same focus on academic excellence, but trying to offer a lot of support. Maybe there were then more students who had at least one British or American parent.
You think Runnymede got more Spanish? I think a little bit, yeah, inevitably, because the numbers grew and there are only so many expat families and children to come to Runnymede. The minute you expand the demographic, then you're gonna get more people who are sort of culturally and nationally, Spanish.
Was Drama an A level when you came to Runnymede? No, Drama didn't exist in any way. One of the reasons that I was hired with my experience as both an actor and also as a drama teacher was to bring extracurricular drama back so that's when the drama club began. The drama club has gone through various different reconfigurations over the years. At the start, you auditioned for a play, there was no automatic place in Drama Club. The first production we did was A Midsummer Night's Dream, we did an hour long version of that in Shakespearean language, and there were students from year seven, all the way through to Year 13 who were in that production. That was a big success and began the process of putting drama back on the map as something that you could do outside of school. And then because there were so many talented people who were getting involved with Drama Club after school and demonstrated such great performance ability, I thought after a couple of years that it would be a great idea to reintroduce Drama, as an IGCSE, first of all. So I did. I had to ask Mr. Powell and I prepared a document to persuade him that it was a good idea. Even at that point, it still had to be an additional option that you could do in your spare time, for some students, because some students still felt that they would like to do it, but there were other subjects that they felt were more of a priority. All the way through the process, it's been making sure that people felt comfortable with the idea of doing Drama and then felt excited about the idea of doing Drama. And obviously, after two years, there were people who wanted to do it for A-level, so then that was introduced. Now as I leave I can be very proud of this. As I leave Drama is being extended down to key stage three and also into the new prep school. And so students will be doing drama from Year four, all the way up to Year 13. So, 11 years in some ways is a long time, but it's also a very short amount of time in the way the entire culture and structure
of a school can adopt a subject and make it integral to the curriculum and the life of the school. Lots of students are embarrassed when acting. How have you gotten past this as a teacher? Well, first of all, I think it’s providing a supportive space in lessons and making sure that people feel that they're not under pressure, at least at the start. We always begin drama in year 10, with lots of improvisations and games and icebreakers and people slowly start to build up their confidence. Then, after that, as well, I think because in year 10, in particular, the focus is on group work, so it's not an individual monologue that you've got to get up there and do immediately. Instead, you're working collaboratively and you've got to communicate with others That's something that I think drama is so useful for, because frankly most subjects are individual, you are working on your own to learn and to study and to perform academically, whereas with the devised piece that we do for the IGCSE and then also for A-level, you depend on others, and they depend on you. What are you gonna miss the most? I'm gonna miss the students the most, from all my roles. I've loved being head of Sixth Form with Ms O’Driscoll. I love helping students with their university decision making process and giving them advice about courses that they should potentially study and where they should study and helping with Oxbridge preparation and with writing references. All of that has been absolute joy. I will miss that although that is something that of course, I'm carrying on in my new role at the new school that I'm going to but these are new students that I won't know whereas some of you I've known since you were in year seven, and to see the way that you've all grown and flourished is wonderful to me, and I will really miss not being there for that last step that you take towards your future. That I will miss, and I will miss students in lessons, particularly the ones who I've already been teaching for the IGCSE and the A-level. But I suppose that's the nature of any teacher moving on and there will always be some lessons that you will have to leave behind. And what are you going to miss the least? I think that, I am very happy that the new Drama teacher will have a dedicated Drama space in which to have her lessons, which has always been something that for very understandable reasons has not been feasible and so I've been very flexible and adaptable when it comes to teaching drama in classroom environments, and have been very happy to do so. But I think it's wonderful that drama now has different spaces; the dining hall, the Julia Powell and will have a classroom space. So it's great that the subject will also be supported by an appropriate space. What do you consider to be your greatest achievement? This could be in Runnymede or outside. Well in Runnymede, as I say, I think setting up drama and, I love teaching English literature as well, so continuing to do that and seeing students go on to study that subject at Oxford has been fantastic, working with Ms O’Driscoll to make the sixth form a really special place
to study and to teach, and seeing our great success that we've had in terms of results on university entrances. And these are universities which are genuinely world leading, for a school in Madrid, that is, I think, a real achievement. I'm also proud of being able to create a career which my main focus of course has always been on the school but still being able to, to achieve things as a performer and as a director, setting up a theatre company performing in film, TV, commercials. So having the ability to fulfil my own creative potential, while also supporting students' fulfilment of their creative potential has been an achievement. We'll get to the performance and acting a bit later but now, let's go back. What was it like growing up in Manchester? Well, it was pretty good growing up in Manchester. I grew up in an area called Whalley Range, which is not the most salubrious of areas. I grew up as an only child but with two very loving parents who have always been very supportive of everything that I've wanted to do. They come from again, quite an artistic background, though my mom was a history teacher and she also worked in community arts and helped working class people publish their own poetry and writing. My dad studied Fine Arts and then worked in film and video.He then went on to be a BAFTA winning sound editor for television. So, I always had that understanding that you could follow paths which weren't necessarily conventional. And then I went to Manchester Grammar School, which is a very, very good school. That was a really strong academic challenge, which I enjoyed rising to, and you could choose the subjects that you wanted to do. It's one of the reasons why I support A-Levels so much, as opposed to other education systems because I feel that you should have the opportunity to do things that you're really good at, and not everybody is good at everything. So Manchester grammar was great. It was also great because although at that point at my school, you couldn't do drama as a subject, a bit like Runnymede it just wasn't part of the very high level academic curriculum. But they had amazingly dedicated teachers who wanted to direct extracurricular plays. So, when I was at school, I played Uncle Vanya in Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, we did our own leavers play in the summer of year 12, it would have been because, when I was in Year 12, we did our own production of Dangerous Liaisons and then we took a play to the Edinburgh Festival for the first time in the summer between between A levels and university. That gave me the confidence to think that I was potentially a strong performer and that that's something that I might want to carry on doing as well. And of course, they were really supportive at helping to get me to Oxford and that was fantastic. Manchester, as it is now, has grown in its cultural energy and excitement and dynamism and self confidence since 20 years ago. I will be going back to a city which is a cultural hub, which has amazing theatres, amazing bars and gigs and people that will include some of my friends that I was very close with when I last lived there. So moving on to your university life, we know you studied at Oxford, what was it like? What college were you in? I went to Jesus College, mainly because when I applied my school said that the best History student Manchester Grammar applies to Jesus because they always get in. So it was one of these instances of symbiosis, by which, at least then, some of the colleges and schools had created connections and because I was the best at history, I got to apply to go to Jesus. To be totally honest, Jesus wasn't really the best fit for me. In terms of the atmosphere, there were a lot of people who were interested in rowing, sports and not quite so interested in
some of the cultural things that I was more engaged with. I went to study History and then I changed after my first year to do History and English. You can't do drama at Oxford, but you could go and do plays. So over three years I did 25 plays as an actor or director. So very often I was going from rehearsal of one play to the rehearsal of another play, and then the performance of another play, and then I would go and write an essay all night. What was the first performance that you've ever given? And what's been your favourite? First performance ever? Do you know what? I'm not sure what the first performance ever was. I think I played, when I was at primary school, Jonah in a sort of primary school mini play of Jonah and the Whale. And then I changed and went to a different primary school and they gave me the role of the chancellor in some random play that they'd written. There was a bit at the end, they asked: ‘Oh, if you want you can add some lines’. So I added an entire monologue. It was very funny and all the teachers were like ‘oh my god, he's great.’ So then at primary school, I played Fagin in Oliver, and played Abanazar in a production of Aladdin. So even at primary school you could play lead roles in full scale plays, because drama was quite a big thing at that primary school. So yeah, Jonah and the Whale, hadn't thought about that for a while And your favourite performance? My favourite performance I'd say was probably playing Hamlet in 2017, here in Madrid. I loved that role. I did so much research and emotional investigation in that role and I was performing with amazing people. And for me, that was the most challenging role because of just how intense it is in terms of the emotional and physical development of the character over the course of the play. And there's everything from a fencing match at the end to showing that you're mad, and these long soliloquies to the audience. I always left every performance of that play exhausted but elated, because I really felt that I'd done justice to my interpretation of the character. What does your acting technique look like? How do you prepare for roles? How do you get into character? For my Theatre company, we do a lot of the Stanislavskian rehearsal strategies that I learned at drama school. So after Oxford, I trained as an actor in London, and part of that was focusing on techniques particularly around investigating what are called ‘the given circumstances’ or the information about the character. The idea that by improvising in character, you really get to know who the character is, instead of rehearsing the text. And that means that the text becomes integrated into your interpretation. So we do that with our theatre company here and I do that with any role that I'm playing. But also my acting technique is quite external, in the sense that I know how to use my voice to have a particular effect. Sometimes, I will apply that vocal technique externally, as well as trying to understand the character internally to try and create the best performance, and that's particularly relevant when you're doing a comedy play, like the one that I've just done. If you spend the whole time being internalised, you know, that's not what comedy is.
Would you say that you prefer working with cameras or live after having done both? Oh, that's a good question. To be honest, I really love theatre work. being on stage, although it's ephemeral, it's there and then it's gone, ultimately, it's much more of a pleasure to do. I like the challenge of camera work. So I like to know that, right, the shot is like this so you've got to do this, you've got to move there then and we need to see your hands at that point. So I like being able to put all that together and make it work, and then do it again and again and again. So the fundamental difference is that you might do 12 takes of a particular shot, one after the other. One of the things that I know I'm good at as an actor for camera, is making sure that every take is the same in terms of how they want it. Whereas, there are some actors that are just very draining as a process and by the 10th take, it's not quite got the energy, whereas I know just how much energy to use. Have you ever had moments of that in your acting career as a whole of like, exhaustion giving up? No, I've never given up. There have been times when I've not acted for a while, obviously during COVID But then also when I moved back to Manchester before moving here, I wasn't acting for nearly two years, and I’m prepared for that to be the case when I move back to Manchester now. I'm prepared that there will be a time when I won't necessarily be doing any acting. But no, I think there's no there's never been a performance where something has gone so horribly wrong that I haven't been able to rescue it and I've never felt too exhausted by something that I've not been able to function in the other aspects of my life. I think it’s because I thrive on doing things. Are there any roles that you would like to play in the theatre but haven’t had the chance to yet? Very good question. To be honest, doing Macbeth in November ticked a big box for me, and I have to say it was almost one of the reasons why I felt that I could leave Madrid because I felt that I'd done the final Shakespearean lead that I really wanted to do here in Madrid, with this theatre company and have that autonomy. So having played Hamlet and played Macbeth, there's no role now, at least for my age bracket, that I feel that I desperately want to play. When I'm older, King Lear is obviously an amazing and devastating role, but I'm not there yet. Do you have any other hobbies besides acting? Well, yes, I do. I love watching football. I love to read obviously, and I like going to watch the tennis and I should play it more. And going to galleries and exhibitions and spending time with friends. That fills up what time I have left. This is one I'm quite interested in, what are your feelings about musical theatre? I like going to watch musical theatre when I do, which isn't that often, but I saw a really good production of singing in the rain which is an adaptation of a film musical a few months ago. That was great. I saw the Tina Turner musical here last year. Even last week I watched the Greatest Showman for the first time having not seen that. Obviously that's a film. When I'm watching musical theatre, I'm like oh, this is great fun. We went see Dream Girls in September on the trip with the Year 13s and great, super fun and then actually, then we saw a musical theatre adaptation of The Book Thief, which was a premiere and at first I thought, how are they going to take this utterly powerful historical novel and turn it into musical theatre because we think about musical theatre as being jazz hands and and toothy smiles, but actually, the songs were really sensitive, the performers were amazing, they did so many interesting theatrical things with it. I just wept and wept at the end of the first half and at the end of the second half. To the extent that the Year 13s were like, ‘are you okay, sir?’ So I'm aware of how emotionally powerful musical theatre can be and how much fun it can be, I think because it's not something that I can do. I was in a production of Cabaret at university, playing a sailor and a kitkat boy, I did have the musical director say to me during rehearsals in that ‘in the opening song, because you've got such a loud projected voice when the ensemble is singing often I'm hearing you, but you're singing all the wrong notes. So, could you mime it?’ So I did. It's just not for me because I'm not a very good singer. I had two years of singing lessons at drama school, but I'm still terrible. Do you have any role models? Oh, good question. My drama teacher at school who, when drama was being introduced particularly as an extracurricular subject, was amazing. He was the one who took us to the Edinburgh Festival. He really showed me that you could be a drama teacher and still do other things. He was a big influence on me. So was my history tutor at Oxford Niall Ferguson, who, despite being completely opposite to me in terms of political views, (he’s very right wing) I just thought he was an amazing lecturer and an amazing tutor and really got the best out of his pupils and was able to do that while also writing massively popular historical texts and doing TV documentaries. He made me see you can be a brilliant teacher, but find the hinterland, which is something that Denis Healey a former Labour cabinet minister and Chancellor called the idea of what is behind you, as a professional person you've also got other things which fulfil you, and for me, ultimately means that I think I'm a better teacher for having that hinterland. So there will be two two examples. How did English Theatre Madrid come about? So I when I came over here, obviously I hadn't done any acting for a while. And eventually I got involved with the Madrid Players who are an amateur community theatre group, who have been around for more than 50 years and have amazing people involved with them and I had the opportunity to do some plays with them and some leading roles and I really enjoyed doing that. I directed a production of An Inspector Calls for them which went very, well. But having trained as an actor, and then worked professionally as an actor, and being paid to be an actor, I eventually disagreed with the way that an amateur group has to be run, which is that nobody gets any money and everything has to be open casting, whereas in the professional world, directors, if they know an actor, and they've worked well with an actor, they want to cast that actor. They don't have to audition them, they just pick them and I sort of wanted a bit more of that autonomy with a few other people who felt the same. So very cordial and mutually supportive relationship with the Madrid players, but I wanted a bit more agency to pick the plays that we could perform and so since 2016, we've done 13 Productions, and that includes obviously a nearly two year gap for COVID. So that's something again, I'm very, very proud of.
And what is the future of English Theatre Madrid? Well it’s going to carry on. So Ms Scott and Ms Miller, who were the other two co-founders, they're going to carry on. I would like to still be involved when and if I can. I do have an idea for the summer term next next year when I will have a half term in the UK, which won't be half term here and potentially having maybe directed something on Zoom and some monologues like we've done in the past, and then coming over and being involved in the final rehearsals and being there for the performance. So I'm certainly not giving up completely in terms of my commitment to English Theatre Madrid, but I know that it will continue to thrive without me A lot of people go to the theatre and view it purely as entertainment. Do you think it has a greater importance? Absolutely. I think drama in general, and as a subject has an amazing importance, so pupils doing drama here, have often played roles or devised pieces that really allowed them to know themselves better and to become more aware of who they are and allow them to work with other people in a way that they just can't do in other parts of their life. Theatre has that ability to be cathartic, to allow you to have this emotional response, which leaves you sobbing and empty, but that was what Aristotle said tragedy should be. I also think it's incredibly thought provoking. You can go and watch it play and it allows you to think about issues. Think about the state of the world today and the state of the world in historical time periods. So, I think entertainment is always part of it but, I have never left the theatre not wanting to have a conversation about what the play was about and what the production team did on stage that was interesting, that maybe was problematic and I think that's what I say to drama students, particularly those who do the A-level; I say, for the rest of your life, you will be able to go to the theatre and come out and have the tools to evaluate it and be able to talk about what you saw on the stage in terms of design and performance and that will be a toolkit that you will carry for the rest of your life. Celebrities are a big part of the entertainment industry, what do you think about people idolizing celebrities? I mean, I think it's just always been a thing, hasn’t it? I think we’ve got to be careful. I think if you care so much about Taylor Swift and Matty Healy that you're bombarding people on social media with hate and you're hiding behind a keyboard, I think that's not psychologically healthy. But I think inevitably, you can look up to footballers, or look up to actors and musicians, and feel inspired by them and think that they are very talented and hope that you could emulate them or just enjoy their art. I'm not saying that you should be downloading every episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians and learning to live your life by it but I think that celebrity culture has its upsides and downsides. I love asking this question. If you could start an organization with an infinite budget, infinite resources, what would it be and what would it tackle? It probably would be something to do with the theatre. So I can imagine just giving as many people as possible the opportunity to be involved in theatre. If I've got unlimited resources,
then I can hire tons of amazing theatres and directors and get as many people as possible involved, as much as they want to be involved and in whatever spheres they want to be involved with. There are people who love lighting design, and that would be great to be able to say, look at this amazing lighting rig, here's how you use it to create images and ideas on stage. I think that would be amazing to be able to do, because I think there are a lot of people who if they were given the opportunity, you know, people in deprived communities or people in cultures where theatre is not necessarily valued as highly, but if you were able to give young people the opportunity to be on stage, and their parents and communities the opportunity to see them and see how talented they are and see the value of theatre, then I think that would have a remarkably effective impact. Throughout this interview we've learned things about you that I certainly didn't know before, I’m sure there are lots of other students who didn’t know either. So, you studied history initially at university, what was your favourite subject in history? I did love one unit, which was culture and society in early Renaissance Italy, that was studying Dante and Johto and similarly Matini, as well as looking at the city states of Florence and Siena, in the period of the late 13th to the late 14th centuries. I loved that. That's one of the things that really made me a real Italiofile, somebody who loves Italy. That's why I learned Italian. I went to Italy for two summers, 2017 and 2018 to learn Italian, so I now speak that proficiently and I really loved doing that and that was really born I think just in experiencing and learning about Italian history at the time. So yes, but also, so much of what I studied at Oxford ended up being the early modern period. So I studied in British history 1500 to 1700, I studied the Shakespeare unit, I did early modern literature from pretty much the same period I did lots of my optional units on the Renaissance period as a whole which is why when I did a master's degree at King's College London, I wanted it to be in 20th century studies, because I felt that I'd done a lot of Shakespeare and Company. So it was good to do Nabokov, and I did my Master's dissertation on A.S. Byatt, who is a contemporary British novelist. So, lots of history, but I particularly enjoyed the early modern. Your career has mainly been English and Drama based, I mean, after studying, do you feel like history has been tossed aside? No, because historical context is so key to both English and Drama. There's an entire assessment objective for the English literature A-level, which is the importance of the contextual factors which produced these texts. I take real pleasure knowing that I am giving the highest level of contextual knowledge to my students, because they are learning about the religious, political and social circumstances which produced those texts. So for me, you can't really understand a text without understanding its context and that context comes from knowing history. And I read history all the time. So my current weird obsession is early Christianity and the development of Christianity. My mom is Jewish, my dad is Catholic, and I'm not practicing with either of those religions. But I think it's a fascinating thing that a tiny Jewish sect basically in the first century ended up conquering the world, so I've been reading quite a few books about that recently. When you teach Drama and you teach English, do you ever feel like your method of teaching is confined or reserved by the syllabus you find yourself in?
A good question. I mean, yes or no. I think there's always the scope to go beyond the syllabus and to provide students with other things. That they could read and the things they could watch and experience. But I do think one of the good things about the eight levels is there is a decent balance of the depth and the breadth. Okay, so, you know, obviously with you, Sam, we've been studying Antigone. Yes, that's just one Greek tragedy that will be amazing. If we had time. Let's also look at the media. Let's also look at Aristophanes comedies and see the difference. It's a shame that we don't have time to do that. But we do still have the time to, you know, to explore a text in a lot of depth and to give you lots of contextual knowledge. So I do and what I do particularly like about the drama, a level is that, you know, we can have very practical lessons where, you know, we're exploring a device piece or a monologue in a really practical way. And then some lessons where no, this is where we're having a discussion we're creating notes. We're offering a slightly more intellectually rigorous approach, maybe, and I liked that balance, and I think that's why it's called Drama and Theatre because you get that juxtaposition. Do you have any advice for current Runnymedians, future Runnymedians? I think in particular, the current Lower Sixth. I just really want you to do what you enjoy and what you're good at at university. Although I completely understand the financial and cultural circumstances that you come from, that's your context. I know that, to some people, the thought of paying 26,000 pounds a year for three years to do a course that isn't viewed as being vocationally useful, or respectable, in the UK, I understand that that's difficult. I've spent more than a decade here explaining to people that doing english or history or politics will have intrinsic value in terms of what you learn, but perhaps more importantly, the skills that you develop. So we always make this point, Ms O’Driscoll and myself, that basically whatever you study, you will gain skills that can be transferred into any sector of the professional world. That is the way the UK job market works. It's the way the US job market works in most cases. I think it's important to remember that, so do what you love, and be true to yourself and recognise that Runnymede will provide you with these amazing opportunities, take advantage of them, but as I come to the end of my time at Runnymede, I suppose it's important to recognise that your time at Runnymede also ends and you are also then able to use what you've learned and who you are, but then you can explore yourself and and become the best version of yourself, wherever you end up. Can we expect you visiting Runnymede often in the future? Yeah, you better invite me to the graduation evening next year. I've already said to Ms O’Driscoll, I will definitely be coming over for that. And I plan to be here seeing friends and coming to visit people at Runnymede, I’d be very, very happy to do that. One of the things that Ms Clague has said that I have to do over the next couple of weeks is book flights already. There are certain things that have become part of my yearly calendar. Ms Scott, Ms Clague, Ms Figueroa, if you remember her, and myself, we do guiri days every year. The four of us do presents just after Reyes, so I will be coming over for that. And Ms Scott and I always go and watch the Madrid Open Tennis. I'll be coming over for that, you know, so there are certain things where I will book the flights and I will come over and know that they'll still be a part of my year. And seeing you guys will be part of that. Well, thank you so much.