Best of Both  

Being one of the smallest drama schools in the country certainly hasn’t held back this rural drama school, nor its esteemed alumni. Susan Elkin is our guide.

When George Peck founded The Oxford School of Drama in 1986 he was breaking new ground. An actor/director used to working with students, he wanted to offer fresh, classical but up-to-date training outside London as an alternative to the big names in London such as RADA, LAMDA and Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. Until Paul McCartney and Mark Featherstone-Witty started LIPA (Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts) in 1995, OSD was the youngest accredited drama school in the country.

A year after it launched, OSD moved into former farm buildings on the edge of Woodstock, 10 miles north of Oxford, where it has now been successfully established for 33 years. Sansomes Farm Studios, exquisitely and very practically converted from its original function, feels very rural and that in itself is unusual for a drama school. In fact, there’s a short-cut footpath into Woodstock where many of the students live in shared houses and regular buses from there into Oxford. It isn’t remote at all. 

As the OSD website states: “We have very strong London connections, and in their final year, students perform at the Soho Theatre (New Writing Partnership) and The Royal Court where we invite leading casting directors and agents. You really can have the best of all worlds; the tranquillity of the Cotswolds, the hustle and bustle of Oxford city student life, along with all the industry connections London has to offer.”

George Peck and his partner Kate Ashcroft ran OSD until their retirement in 2019 when Ed Hicks took over as principal. Head of Film, TV and Radio at RADA for eleven years, Ed came to the post with a long track record of making award winning films and managing innovation. OSD is definitely not standing still nor likely to.

OSD, is one of the country’s smallest drama schools. And unlike almost all its counterparts it has resisted the shift towards reworking its courses as degrees. Instead it offers just three diploma courses, accredited by Trinity College, London.

The three-year conservatoire course on acting is the equivalent of a BA degree. The intensive one-year course is aimed at slightly older students who have already done some training and/or have industry experience and functions very much like an MA or post-graduate course.

Because these are not degrees, the usual funding options for undergraduates do not apply, but students are eligible for Dance and Drama Awards (DaDA) and advanced learner loans. There is also additional bursary funding for those who need it.

The third course is a two-term foundation course for which students have to self-fund. There is no audition for this. Because some students do the foundation course as a year-out project between school and higher education it has deliberately been designed as a six month commitment only, so that there is also time in the year for the student to earn some money. This course is mainly taught by the same top-flight staff who teach the three-year and one-year courses and students get 32 hours per week of tuition.

OSD has a long list of successful alumni. Clare Foy, for example, is a graduate of its one-year course. Jude Owuso played the title role in Tamburlaine for the RSC in 2018. Ella Bruccoleri plays Sister Frances in BBC TV’s Call the Midwife, Ritu Arya played Becky in ITV’s Sticks and Stones by Mike Bartlett last year. And Luke Barnes’s play, The Jumper Factory, devised in collaboration with inmates at HMP Wandsworth, played at the Young Vic and later at Wolsey Theatre Ipswich and Bristol Old Vic. His 2018 play All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, produced by Middle Child went to Edinburgh, then toured and is published by Oberon Books, now part of Bloomsbury.

OSD has been deemed outstanding in each Ofsted visit during the last ten years, but let the last word about OSD go to Robbie Curran who graduated from the one year acting course in 2014 and has since appeared in the BBC show Doctors, among other things: “Everything is guided in the pursuit of genuine human truth and sharing that in the living language of theatre. The staff know the mark of what it takes to be exceptional and will do everything in their power to guide you to be the best actor you can be.”