Training Central  

Royal Central School of Speech and Drama is the UK’s largest drama school and has more than eleven hundred full time students. Susan Elkin provides an insight.

With a wide range of courses at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, including a large number of part-time, short and outreach courses, Central’s notable alumni include Dawn French, Cush Jumbo, Peggy Ashcroft, Rupert Everett, Jamie Glover, Kit Harington and many more.

Now based at Swiss Cottage, RCSSD was founded by Elsie Fogerty, a speech training specialist, as The Central School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art in 1906 as and was originally based in the Royal Albert Hall.

Professor Simon Shepherd, Professor Emeritus of Theatre notes that Fogertyalso had a firm belief in the social importance of education. The students of her school quickly became famous for their delivery in verse-speaking competitions, their appearance in theatres, and their work with children in the deprived areas of London. While Central developed a name for actor training, its founder was at the same time committed to advancing the study of theatre as an academic discipline.”

Central School of Speech and Drama moved to the Embassy Theatre at Swiss Cottage in 1957 and developed other facilities around it. At present the eagerly awaited £16.7 million development at Swiss Cottage includes a state-of the art building comprising a studio dedicated to film, media and digital work and five new high ceiling rehearsal spaces. The development will also house a new public theatre, which will probably help the School’s reputation as a cultural hub in north London.

In 2005, Central absorbed Webber Douglas Academy and became part of the University of London. The Royal title was conferred in 2012, thereby giving RCSSD the same status as RADA.

Of course, Central runs the standard drama school courses in Acting and Musical Theatre. It also offers a wide range of technical theatre courses under its BA in Theatre Practice umbrella. Students start from a common core and then choose a “pathway” through the degree which allows them to specialise in, for example, lighting design, costume construction or stage management. The most unusual of these is the Puppetry: Design and Performance course, one of the things for which Central is famous, because it is still quite difficult to do a full degree almost entirely focused on puppetry – in spite of the current popularity of puppetry across the performing arts industries.

Post-graduate courses (of which there are seventeen) include an MA/MFA in actor training and coaching and one on theatre criticism and dramaturgy. Yes, Central continues to be innovative. You can also do a research degree – MPhil or PhD – at RCSSD.

In order to make all this happen there is, of course, a huge staff of lecturers, readers and professors led by principal Professor Gavin Henderson CBE, formerly in charge at Trinity College of Music which moved to Greenwich and merged with Laban Centre for Movement under his leadership. He also directed Dartington School International Summer School for 25 years – and a lot more. He’s an eclectic “arts man” and a shrewd operator which is, probably why, Central has come so far in recent years.

On the teaching staff are people such as the charismatic Geoff Colman, head of acting and programme leader for the BA (Hons) acting course. His CV is huge – ranging across directing, writing, coaching, teaching, lecturing, sitting on boards and much more. He’s also tremendous fun to be in a room with and students who work with him are very privileged.

Additionally, Central employs a large number of visiting professionals (approximately 200 in any one year). These are people who work as movement directors, actors, directors, lighting designers, set constructors, applied and community theatre practitioners, teachers, production managers, prop makers, voice coaches and so on. It is all designed to ensure that students get real, current exposure to the industries they want to work in.  

Fact Box

Royal Central School of Speech and Drama 62-64 Eton Avenue, London NW3 3HY 020 7722 8183 twitter: @CSSDLondon

Application for undergraduate courses is via UCAS

Annual tuition fee for UK students on undergraduate courses is £9,250 in 2019/20. There is information about bursaries and scholarships and other forms of support on the RCSSD website.

All applications for post-graduate courses should go straight to RCSSD.

RCSSD is part of both Federation of Drama Schools and Conservatoires UK.

Contemporary Performance Practice Open Day 02 October 2019, Theatre Design, Crafts and Production Open Day 04 October 2019, Postgraduate Open Evening 07 November 2019