Do we need a school like ALRA North in the North East?

Susan Elkin
Susan is Education and Training Editor at The Stage
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ALRA North, the school in Wigan founded three years ago as the northern arm of Wandsworth-based ALRA South, is the Stage 100 Awards 2013 School of the Year. And I am very proud, as one of the judges, to have been part of the panel which made that decision.

It is cripplingly expensive to train in London where so many of the schools running accredited courses are based. And, although you don’t have to repay a penny of your student loan until you’re earning £21,000 a year, that £27,000 or so tuition fees debt is deeply off-putting for many. But training premises and student living costs are cheaper outside London. ALRA, is therefore able to offer its students in the north an identical, tried and tested product to the training at ALRA South but at lower fees. It also cost less to live and eat in Wigan than in London.

And there’s no doubt that students have to think very hard about costs. Across the whole higher education system applications are down this year from last – which is unsurprising given high costs and parental scepticism. A student I interviewed at Birmingham School of Acting told me that he had turned down the offer of a place in London (at ALRA, ironically) in favour of the Birmingham training so that he could live at home with his mother and keep costs down.

So, now the first ALRA North graduates are available for professional work, having completed their course last summer, and a pleasing number of them are getting jobs. And I’m wondering why some of the other drama schools don’t diversify elsewhere in the country too as it has clearly been a success story for ALRA.

Consider the geography. A huge tranche of the north east of England is a training desert. Yes, I know there are universities offering drama and other relevant courses and there are independent schools but it you travel south east from RCS in Glasgow you won’t find another accredited vocational course until you get to London, unless you head west to LIPA, Manchester School of Theatre, ALRA North at Wigan or BSA. And there’s nothing at all in the whole of the north of England beyond Manchester on either side of the country.

So I reckon there’s great potential for a satellite drama school in, say, Newcastle or Durham. Artistically it’s a vibrant area with the Sage Gateshead, Theatre Royal and Pavilion in Newcastle, Gala in Durham and much more. There’s the potential for infrastructure including partnerships, placements and so on. LAMDA North East, Rose Bruford Newcastle or East 15 Durham all have a ring to them, don’t you think?


  1. I myself am from the north east, trained in the north west , and now work professionally in regional, touring and west end theatre. I am also one of around 20 young people from a specific north east youth theatre, who have had CDS training in the past five years and now working professionally in the industry. However, many of my contemporaries are now in a huge amount of debt and are struggling with their profession because they have to keep up a full time non-acting job just to pay the rent in the capital. The north east is a hot bed of talent, culture and eager young minds ready to work creatively. It is often seen as a disadvantaged area of the uk, but anyone who visits there can’t help but be moved by the beauty and potential of the place. It is a wasted opportunity to not have a CDS training school in the north east. I know myself and many of my professional north east colleagues would have benefitted enormously from it, especially in terms of finance, meaning of course more time to create and actually build a strong career. The north east, which continues to pump out superior, professional and talented performers, should be embraced and nurtured by the training and theatre industry.

  2. I’m an actress in the north east in a town next door to sheffield and just completed a university degree. But as it not accredited its hard to find work and move forward especially as i’m not young and i have a child to care for. So it would be really beneficial for a school that take on adults and trains them up to go on into work and have a better footing in their chosen career. I would welcome an ALRA in sheffield and i know there are many actors here too that would fill the book of a school like this. Please consider it we are crying out for something like this. because all our acting school are tailored to young children not adult.

  3. I think that it would be a good idea to have a drama school in the North East, but having had a truly negative experience of ALRA North, I think it would be better if it were affiliated to a university. That way the students would get both a practical and academic education, that has a system of checks and balances. The students would also get better facilities and would be in a community of students who are studying other courses. The hot-house atmosphere and the bitchy gossip, and character assassination sessions, would therefore, not be such a feature of drama school life. So, YES to good training in the North East, but NO to a set up like ALRA North.

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