Central School of Speech and Drama

Anyone who has done any kind of research on CSSD will know that it has trained the best. Laurence Olivier, Judi Dench, Lindsay Duncan, Vanessa Redgrave, Zoe Wanamaker, Harold Pinter, Gael Garcia BernalЙ I could go on, there's a long list.

The school was founded in 1906 by Elsie Fogerty at the Royal Albert Hall, a school that was dedicated to training the highest calibre of actors. The school moved to the Embassy Theatre in Swiss Cottage in 1956 where it's settled in rather nicely.

The reputation of Central today, now part of the University of London, is as strong as ever. But it's not just the acting course that has a respectable standing now. One department that is committed to high quality enhancement and application of knowledge about theatre and performance techniques, is quickly making their mark on the national and international community.

The School of Professional and Community Development (SPCD) is an outward-facing department of Central that offers specialist speech and drama training that is innovative, socially responsive and tailored to the needs of diverse groups. In short, the team offer varied training courses for Business, Schools and Community, specialist Short Courses and an extensive Summer School Programme.

The man that ensures that training is second-to-none, is ex-Central student Bruce Wooding, who joined the school as a lecturer. Now Head of the Department having worked his way through the ranks, Wooding is keen to use his position to make sure he offers training that is pioneering and resourceful.

“It's a mixture of business and community,” explains Wooding. “So we work with business executives, politicians, Royals, right the way through to open access courses.”

The work Central does with school students appears to be inspiring for not just those taking part, but the course leader too. The department is committed to offering both free and fee-paying activities, often developing courses for schools with a specific training need.

“I think it's really important because the students get a chance to work outside of school,” says Wooding, eager to stress that doesn't mean their teachers aren't any good. “It's just an environment. It gives them time to be in a proper conservatoire college, so it's kind of different than doing it in a church hall.

“It's very exciting for teenagers to come along and feel their way through that, and it makes it less scary when they're coming along for auditions or interviews, because they already know some faces around and know a bit about the building, a history,” he explains.

A range of the department's participants are people interested in working in theatre in whichever way possible, not necessary wanting to be actors. That certainly does not mean the School doesn't cater for those set on a career as performers though. The Short Courses and Summer School programme are a fantastic way to brush up on skills and there is an endless list of classes on offer that includes acting for camera, radio, American accent course, audition technique, stage combat, improvisation, musical theatre, Shakespeare, arts & crafts, and even a course that sees students devising and performing in the soap opera genre!

“We've tried to respond to and consider what might people not quite have got enough of in their degree, so we attract a whole range of actors and people who have come from your good drama degree courses and who are going into acting,” affirms Wooding. “We had about 500 people in for the summer last year, with participants right up to retirement age.”

Wooding is also proud of the department's work internationally, having gone out to work with English speaking schools in Calcutta last year. “We ran a competition with the British Council, and we're out there again this year running it,” he explains. “We've got about 30 entries, and there's one winning teacher and three winning kids, all coming over to take part in the Youth Theatre course. That was the prize we offered them. We're trying to create the global family of Central and that intercultural experience, not just being London based.”

So has the incorporation of being part of a large university hampered the quality of courses at Central? It appears quite the contrary. Bruce is clear in his response: “I think it's been for the good, because we're now the biggest provider. We're also got the Centre of Excellence. Big hasn't turned out to be bad. There's a real diversity of courses for anyone coming to train. I don't know anywhere else in the world you would meet a puppeteer, and a voice teacher and a movement tutor and a school teacher, all in the same institution.

“We try to employ students from Central for each of the courses. People coming along get to chat with someone who is real, and in the course, so they don't get someone like me who did it 20 years ago,” smiles Wooding. “So it's current and experienced, we've got RSC and West End people like that teaching here, but equally students who are here now.”

The School is doing something right. The Xcel Performing Arts Student of the Year 2009 went to Nessah Muthy from the BA Theatre Practice course. Praise indeed.

More info: www.cssd.ac.uk or telephone 020 7722 8183.

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