With a roster of alumni that claims Judi Dench, Jennifer Ehle, Rupert Everett, Sonia Friedman, Michael Grandage, Sir Laurence Olivier, and Cameron Mackintosh, it’s no surprise that London’s Royal Central School of Speech and Drama is among the top-ranked universities for drama and dance in the U.K.
But a closer look at that list of notable alumni, which includes award-winning actors, directors, and producers, exemplifies the diverse array of educational opportunities available to students at Central.
Central is, in essence, an all-encompassing educational hub where young artists can receive training in specialized theatrical fields. While acting remains a central component, Central has dedicated areas of study for producing and directing, as well as stage and production management, writing for the stage, and technical tracks for costume, lighting, prop, scenic, and sound design. Also offered are courses in theatre education, puppetry, performance art, and drama and movement therapy.
A major draw is that Central allows students to put their developing skills into practice. Every one of Central’s productions is fully mounted by students, from scenic, lighting and sound, to construction of props and costumes, all the way to stage and production management, ensuring that students complete their studies with numerous hours of hands-on, real-time experience in their craft.
“The culture at Central is a highly collaborative one, with our students often working alongside each other and across our different courses,” says Ross Brown, Dean of the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. “This better prepares Central graduates for work in the professional world, but also, once they are out there working, it provides a ready-made professional network.”
He adds, “Technologies have become more advanced and theatre, as a form, naturally wants to explore the relationship between the live stage, and the screen and Internet media. Theatre practitioners—including actors—need not only to be specialists, but also to understand how the rehearsal room is increasingly a place of interdisciplinary collaboration. At Central, we train and prepare our students to enter the industry as professional practitioners across a range and breadth of disciplines but also to understand the big picture. You can see this in practice in West End/Broadway productions like The Encounter, Harry Potter and 1984, where Central graduates play crucial creative and technical roles. You’ll also find Central-trained voice, movement and acting coaches throughout the industry, including in gaming, motion-capture or animation.”
What American students beginning their college search may not know is that Central is also a destination for international students. In comparison to U.S. schools, tuition in the U.K. is markedly lower than their U.S. counterparts, and students are able to complete their education in a compacted time frame. Bachelors Programs at Central are completed in three years, full-time Masters Programs are completed within one year, and MFA programs last two years.
A key component to Central’s program is that it actively prepares students to enter the professional workforce, helping them to establish connections with artists and major theatre companies across London, including Shakespeare's Globe, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre, the English National Opera, The Royal Opera House, as well as Punchdrunk and Handspring Puppet Company.
In addition, showcases are provided for final year acting students, who also benefit from year-long support from the school’s industry liaison officer who helps graduates connect with agents and casting directors.
“We hold a major exhibition of graduating student design, craft, and technical work each year, attended by key employers such as the costume constructors from Game of Thrones, and prop departments from the BBC’s Dr. Who,” Brown adds. “Much of the creative industry is either freelance or small enterprises, so we also offer some orientation and training in relation to entrepreneurialism and setting up a business.”
Because of the school’s focus on professional development and support, employment statistics for Central graduates are among the highest in the arts sector, according to Brown. “Our graduate employment rate is, year on year, extremely high—and beyond this, we have good links with the industry which allow students to undertake a wide range of professional placements during their studies.”
For U.S. students looking to pursue an education in theatre, The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama should be on your list.
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