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An old Spotlight directory

A look back at past Spotlight Prize winners and nominees, and how the Rodney Millington Award evolved into the celebration of talent we continue to host today.

Not many companies can boast about having the history and reputation for quality that Spotlight has, and normally we’re modest to a fault about our prestigious past. But the Spotlight Prize isn’t about us – it’s about graduates getting their big chance to showcase their talents to a room full of industry professionals, and we’re more than willing to blow the cobwebs off our almost-100-year-history if it means getting to celebrate our members!

The Origins of Spotlight

Spotlight has been around since 1927, when we were just a pamphlet cobbled together by stage manager Keith Moss. We were a solution to a problem – a way for actors to be found by directors and casting directors without having to print and pass out dozens of headshots themselves. Our first Spotlight directory contained just 236 performers (and a couple of dogs), and we’ve been growing and growing ever since.

Actor Rodney Millington joined shortly after our launch, and by the time World War II began, ‘The Spotlight’ (as we were known back then) was being used by every film, television and theatre production in the UK to find their cast. Entertainment was crucial to morale during the war, and Spotlight was so vital to this process that we were granted an exemption from paper rationing so we could continue to publish.

In 1954, we had our first drama school showcase to recognise the exceptional acting talents of graduates from Central School, Webber Douglas and LAMDA. In 1956, RADA joined too. This showcase was known as The Rodney Millington Award, and one day (after a brief hiatus), it would become the Spotlight Prize.

Rodney Millington Award winners and nominees included:

  • Albert Finney (1956)
  • Dame Judi Dench (1957)
  • Jeremy Brett (1954)
  • James Bolam (1960)
  • John Hurt (1962)
  • Janet Suzman (1962)
  • Brian Cox (1965)
  • Zoë Wanamaker (1970)
  • Robert Lindsay (1970)
  • Brian Capron (1970)

The Start of the Spotlight Prize

In 2002, after a 32 year hiatus, the Rodney Millington Award returned as the Spotlight Prize, thanks to the determination of the late Nigel Seale to support and champion the talent of drama school graduates. This follows Nigel launching the Graduates Directory in 1981, which focused on drama school students in their final year of training. He did this in the hopes that this dedicated book would ensure the industry could easily find the acting stars of tomorrow.

From 2002 onwards, the showcase became an annual industry event with an invited audience of agents and casting directors, which we continue to celebrate to this day.

Starting in 2016, we introduced the screen element of the prize, and now, every year, Spotlight awards two Spotlight Prizes to the most outstanding student actors graduating from drama schools and universities across the UK, Ireland, and Europe. Each school nominates its best final-year student to compete for the Spotlight Prize for the Stage and Screen categories. 

For each discipline, we hire a well-known director to help coach the students, as well as putting together a panel of casting directors and actors to select the winners.

We have an incredible glittering alumni of past winners and nominees with just a few examples below:

  • Ben Whishaw (nominee, 2003)
  • Sam Heughan (nominee, 2003)
  • Denise Gough (nominee, 2003)
  • Laura Donnelly (nominee, 2004)
  • Gwendoline Christie (nominee, 2005)
  • Jodie Whittaker (nominee, 2005)
  • Joel Fry (nominee, 2005)
  • David Hunter (winner, 2006)
  • Frances Ashman (winner, 2006)
  • Matthew Needham (nominee, 2007)
  • Charlotte Riley (nominee, 2007)
  • Faye Marsay (winner, 2012)
  • Mimi Ndiweni (winner, 2013)
  • Billy Howle (nominee, 2013)
  • Jacob Fortune-Lloyd (nominee, 2014)
  • Rosalind Eleazar (winner, 2015)
  • Edward Bluemel (highly commended, 2015)
  • Bessie Carter (winner, 2016)
  • Gabrielle Creevy (nominee, 2018)
  • Rhiannon Clements (winner, 2019)

Our 2023 Winners: 

Spotlight Prize 2023 winners Teddy Moore and Shannon Watson
Image credit: Joanna Nicole Photography

  • Teddy Moore (Best Stage Winner, 2023)
    Teddy was unveiled in 2024 as one of the Irish Times’ ‘Ones to Watch’ and has been working on campaigns for The Abbey Theatre.
  • Shannon Watson (Best Screen Winner, 2023)
    Shannon has filmed a role in upcoming series The Jetty as well as being announced as ‘Unity Mitford’ in new series Outrageous (alongside Spotlight Prize winner Bessie Carter).

Our past Spotlight Prize judges have included actors such as:

  • Gemma Chan
  • Daniel Mays
  • Lesley Manville
  • Alex Jennings
  • Sheila Atim
  • Adeel Akhtar
  • Celia Imrie
  • Vicky McClure
  • Hayley Atwell
  • Imelda Staunton
  • Paapa Essiedu
  • Rosamund Pike
  • Michael Balogun

And casting directors, including:

  • Shaheen Baig
  • Nina Gold
  • Susan Shopmaker
  • Deborah Aquila 
  • Bernard Telsey
  • Sharon Bialy 
  • Daniel Edwards
  • Debbie McWilliams
  • Fiona Weir
  • Aisha Bywaters
  • Rachel Sheridan
  • Reg Poerscout-Edgerton
  • Lucy Bevan
  • Andy Pryor

Take a look at our website to find out more about our most recent Spotlight Prize finalists, winners and judges, as well as their top tips and advice.