Drama School Stories: Royal Central School of Speech & Drama
Christopher Tester on the training offered at the Royal Central School of Speech & Drama
Part of our series of perspectives from members on formal training as an actor, Christopher Tester discusses his time at the Royal Central School of Speech & Drama. With plenty of great insight on offer in this series, read the rest of our advice about different drama schools across the UK.
I felt Central gave me a lot during my three years. It gave me a safe place to fail, to explore myself and my art, and work out what approaches worked best for me. My year group consisted of a wide range of ages and nationalities, so it was great to work with different people.
I've always loved theatre from an early age, but it was only at university, doing countless plays, that I thought it might be a career option. After university, I didn't feel technically equipped enough to immediately seek out work as an actor. I wanted to explore working with different texts in a safe environment, and also wanted to do a course that would serve as a 'launching pad' into the industry. For those reasons, I sought vocational training.
I trained at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama on their three-year BA Honours Acting programme. No one particular drama school is going to suit every individual, so getting a proper feel for the school when auditioning was important to me. In that respect, Central stood out by having a current student take me on a tour of the facilities. They were happy to answer any questions candidates might have. Despite seeing vast numbers of candidates - because of its reputation and operating through the UCAS system - it gave me a more personable impression of the school than some of the others I auditioned for.
The core body of teaching staff that taught me during my training were exceptional. Central’s movement teaching is incredibly strong, and I was exposed to a wide variety of techniques, from animal study to Laban to yoga. Similarly, vocal tuition (leaning hard on the teachings of Patsy Rosenberg, Barbara Houseman and Cicely Berry) prepared students for the rigours of classical text, in the understanding that if you could master these, then more ‘naturalistic’ text work would be easier too.
As to the actual acting tuition, the school doesn’t propose one distinct methodology over another. Instead, we were encouraged to explore a variety of approaches, from Uta Hagen and Stanislavski to Meisner and Michael Chekhov. By acknowledging that the process of acting is entirely individual, the course attempted to introduce each student to a selection of core approaches, so that we had a well-stocked ‘toolkit’ of techniques to choose from, depending on the project at hand. On reflection, this approach seems the most logical, but does have weaknesses. Some techniques felt merely ‘touched on’ rather than thoroughly explored - but they at least made you aware that more approaches existed, and allowed you to try them out for yourself.
The training was almost exclusively theatre-orientated, on the understanding that as the most ‘technically difficult’ medium to execute, performance in other media such as film or voice over would be easier. It is this aspect of the training that seems to be changing most at drama schools, with a greater appreciation that camera and voice over techniques have their own set of rules.
During my time, I completed about a week’s worth of camera training and just a handful of voice over sessions. As a result, I never felt as fully prepared for auditioning in these fields as theatre, and they were things I had to seek further tuition in after graduating.
Overall, I felt Central gave me a lot during my three years. It gave me a safe place to fail, to explore myself and my art, and work out what approaches worked best for me. My year group consisted of a wide range of ages and nationalities, so it was great to work with different people. And from a purely practical perspective, the reputation of the school meant that our third-year showcase was reasonably well attended by agents and casting directors.
There were several difficult times too. Certain aspects of the training I simply didn’t ‘get’, or only really understood years after graduating. But quite often our tutors warned us that might be the case. I also trained at Central during a very disruptive phase in the school’s development, when it took over Webber Douglas Academy and began a process of restructuring its BA Acting course into three strands - a process which involved some trial and error. However, I’m proud to be a graduate of the school, and felt that it spurred me to discover my own way of working. The facilities and staff are of a high standard, and that is borne from the continued success of its graduates. I certainly don’t believe that drama school is essential to working as an actor, nor that the process of learning stops once formal training is finished - but I’m glad I went. And survived it!
Christopher graduated from the Central School of Speech and Drama in 2008. Since then, he has performed in a wide variety of theatre work both in the UK and internationally. This year he was nominated for an Off West End Award, and he also works full-time as a voice over artist from home. See more of what he’s up to on his website.