The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
This interview explores the actor education system at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, an institution with a 100-year history
How do you finance RADA?
Well, it has been a very difficult, with very varied ways of financing the school over the first hundred years since it was established in 1904. But now, since we created the Conservatoire, all students receive a grant from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, so they are funded exactly like any other university student. Above that, RADA, as an independent organisation, has to raise its own money .We do not get a block grant from the government, we only get money for each student.
We run a number of short courses like RADA in Tokyo, in Japan, and also we run two courses with New York University. Every year they send 32 students to us for classes in Shakespeare. We run an eight-week course of our own in the summer. We have a 160 people from 23 different countries for the short courses like Shakespeare or a contemporary-drama.
We have a relative organisation called RADA Enterprises, which runs courses for young people; we have RADA youth theatre in the Camden area of London. We do cabaret on the Queen Mary II on their cruises. Also in collaboration with local organisations all over England, we give them a weekend taste for drama training. RADA Enterprises also works in the business community, working with business leaders, with big corporations and particularly with local authorities, in training their staff by using acting skills, presentation, speech skills, developing their confidence, helping them to do presentations. There is a whole portfolio of different courses we run under the banner of RADA Enterprises, which make money to pay back to school.

Can you say something about the graduation production? Who chooses the script and directs it?
We do not have just one graduation production, the whole of the third year really is for a graduation production. We have three theatres and all are licensed for public performance. I choose the plays, directors and cast the plays, so principally I am the artistic director for the third year. The agent presentations, which we call “The Tree” after our founder, Herbert Beerbohm Tree, are agent showcases that RADA started. We were the first school to do them. I think it is the best way for most of our students to pick up an agent.

As a drama school, what is unique about RADA’s education?
It is very hard to put your finger on what’s unique about RADA. There is, no doubt, rather classical training rooted more in Shakespeare, Jacobean, Restoration, in text, in Alexander technique. These things have been taught in RADA right from the beginning. The small groups in which we teach students are very, very important to us. For example, Alexander lessons, singing lessons, many voice lessons are one to one, and even the largest group lessons are quite small groups of up to ten students. So there is very personal tutoring of every student. Every student has a personal tutor, including myself and the dean of study, as well as professional tutors such as actors and directors from outside of school. So there is already a very strong professional connection with the theatre profession at RADA. We do work on contemporary theatre but I think the root in the classical tradition helps numbers of actors to get employed by the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and by the National Theatre. I think that is clearly something special to RADA.

Can you explain about the Alexander technique? Why is it important for actors?
FM Alexander, who founded this technique, was an actor himself. He lost his voice while he was acting, particularly when he was doing one-man shows. So he started to experiment using mirrors to look at the head/neck relationship and how that affected his whole posture, how he sat, stood and walked. What happens when he became nervous as an actor? What happens when he projected his voice? So it is a technique for freeing habitual tension in the body. Our founder, Mr. Tree, took lessons from Alexander himself. Now it’s been basic at RADA for very long time and a very important part of the training.

Can you tell us a little about yourself? Before you became the principal of RADA, what did you do? What was your initial interest in theatre?
Immediately before I became the principal, I was the deputy principal for five years. I started directing as guest director at RADA in 1971, so I have quite a long association with the school. I am a theatre director and from 1963 until 1988 I directed things from commercial theatre in the West End to fringe experimental work. I ran a regional theatre called Theatre Royal Lincoln and I worked for the Royal Shakespeare Theatre running their theatre-go-round unit, which toured around Great Britain. I then worked for the Ipswich Art Theatre in the east of England, and for ten years I was the artistic director of the Unicorn Theatre for children, which is the biggest in London. I always had particular interested in work for young people, and also strong interest in training.

In the 80s, Mrs. Thatcher announced that the number of actors in Britain was far too large and she tried to reduce the number of actors here. Has the number of actors actually reduced since then?
I do not think so. The work for the media and television is still there but the difficulty is the amount of work. Particularly in the theatre, the amount has decreased, because for many years the funding for our regional theatres fell behind the rate of inflation. So it was not so easy for the regional theatre network to employ actors for two to three months, or even longer. In the past, there used to be a chance for actors to grow and develop by working there. Now that does not exist so much.
On the other hand, there has been a growth of fringe theatre, particularly in London. There are opportunities for actors to work in pub theatres or some of these old buildings that have become new theatres, like the Southwark Playhouse. These theatres have given actors a chance to work, but they are very badly paid. So in terms of profession, they are really semi-professional, although the standards of work are often high.
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